Meg on Marketing: Cranky Customers

How many times have we heard the most famous phrase in business “The customer is always right”? Knowing it is one thing, but believing it is much more difficult when the customer is (dare I say it?) is actually wrong. Recently, I had an unhappy customer that tested my beliefs. Fortunately this doesn’t happen often, but being properly prepared to handle customer complaints can actually improve your business and turn dissatisfied shoppers into happy loyal customers.

It was the week before Christmas when this customer came in looking for a print she has seen in the shop weeks before. We found the print and worked for nearly an hour selecting mats and a beautiful frame that I actually could have delivered in time for the holiday. When she came in the next day to pick it up it all seemed fine at first, then came the melt-down. I’ve seen a lot of different behavior displayed by customers over my 20+ years in retail, but I never expected this. She was upset – well beyond what would be considered reasonable. She was down right hysterical! There were whiney cries of disappointment in between big sobs and a river of tears. Everyone stopped, eyes open wide, jaws dropped while they listened to her rant and waited to see what I was going to say next.

This situation was uncomfortable for me, but a great training session for my employees. It reminded me of how important handling difficult customers can be and how critical it is to the survival of a retail business. Surveys say that 95% of dissatisfied customers become loyal customers if their complaints are handled well. Here are eight tips for diffusing customer anger and creating calm with cranky customers.

1. Respect the customer. Give the customer time to vent (and rant if need be) and let them explain their entire situation. Don’t apologize too quickly – they won’t hear it anyway. If you interrupt too quickly they may feel stifled and will be unwilling to hear your solution.

2. Don’t get defensive. Remember that their attitude and behavior aren’t personally against you. Keep your voice pleasant and your tone helpful and compassionate. You will make things much worse if you sound irritated or defensive.

3. Focus on the facts. Ask questions and listen carefully to what the customer is saying. Are they unhappy with the color or the design, was the project not completed on time or is there a problem with the frame. Find out exactly what the problem is.

4. Repeat the problem. “I heard you say you were disappointed with the mat color.” Restate their concerns so the communication is clear. “Do I understand you right…?”

5. Say you’re sorry. Say you’re sorry even if you didn’t do it, even if the customer is wrong. “I’m sorry this isn’t what you expected.” Don’t pass the blame – the customer doesn’t want to hear it. They’re talking to you – it’s your problem now.

6. Fix it. Before you offer your best solution, ask the customer what they would suggest to fix the problem. Perhaps they would be happy with $20 off the price, a replacement or refund. Tell the customer what you plan to do to resolve the situation and when it will be done.

7. Give a gift. To show that you care about them and their business, give them a coupon for $50 off their next order, a gift certificate. A small token of your appreciation of their understanding will be remembered.

8. Follow up with the customer. Even if the problem is solved send them a note in the mail or write an e-mail to make sure the customer is happy.

9. It’s important to remember not to let the customer’s drama become your drama. Try to create calm and correct the problem while diffusing their anger. Take these steps to resolve the customer’s complaint and an unhappy customer can become one of the 95% of satisfied customers that help improve your business.


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