Switching sides

Let’s face it, in our complex world of selling high-end decorative plumbing products you will have an unhappy, dissatisfied and sometimes irate client from time to time.

It’s just part of doing business. How you handle these situations is the key. When done correctly, you can turn the most dissatisfied client into a customer for life. Let’s take a look at how you can do this.

First, the “problem” that caused the customer to be unhappy may have come about in any number of ways. You made a mistake (heaven forbid!), your vendor screwed up, the installing contractor messed up or maybe even the customer caused the problem. When the client is unhappy it really doesn’t matter what caused the situation. What really matters is that you resolve it as quickly and painlessly as possible.

When clients come into your store and purchase a product, they have every hope and expectation that everything will go smoothly. Well, it’s not a perfect world out there and things will go wrong from time to time. When unhappy customers become satisfied customers because you solved their problem, they very likely could become one of your company’s best customers and a great source of referrals.

Every once in a while a customer goes beyond being just unhappy. They become irate and even irrational. This becomes the ultimate test of your employee service skills. I’ve been there! I’ve dealt with a few of these irate folks and I know firsthand that it can take you to the breaking point if you’re not careful. Staying grounded and above the fray requires you to reach deep down and find an inner strength that allows you to deal with the customer and his or her situation. 


Things to keep in mind

Dealing with upset customers is one of the toughest parts of your job. When you are faced with an upset client it is important to remember these things:

  • Every customer is different. Each one has its own personality traits. Every circumstance is different.
  • Unhappy customer encounters can emerge from nowhere. They can blindside you when you least expect it. The key is to be ready.
  • You have the opportunity to make things right. You can turn a bad situation into a good one. 
  • Being a great listener and showing compassion is essential.

You won’t always be successful. As hard as you might try there will be times where there is nothing you will be able to do to turn the situation around. Shake it off and move on.

The unhappy client may be letting you have it over the phone, or they may be face to face with you. Keep in mind the customer is upset and is in an attack mode. You have to be aware the client is attacking the situation and not you personally. Don’t ever allow yourself to be verbally or, heaven forbid, physically abused.

If necessary, call a “timeout.” Ask for a short cooling off period that allows the client time to get under control. If the irate client is on the phone and verbally attacking you, tell them you’re going to hang up and give them a chance to “cool off” and you will call them back in five minutes. Then do it! If the client is in the showroom, tell them you’re going to get them a bottle of water or get your supervisor or find some other excuse to walk away for just a few minutes. Then come back and talk with the client when they’ve had a chance to calm down.

Immediately let the customer know that you are on their side, you are going to go to bat for them and you will be doing everything within your power to resolve the situation.


Meet the four Cs

Here are the four Cs that will help you handle customers in difficult situations:

Compassion:Listen carefully and react to their words, not just their behavior. Examine the facts.

Calm:You must remain calm and not lose your cool.

Confidence:Handle the situation with confidence knowing you are following company policy and procedures. Know that within reason you are empowered to make decisions and make the situation go away.

Competence:Use your expertise to resolve the situation and turn the unhappy client into a happy one.

Reaching an agreement quickly is the best way to stop the venting and earn a happy customer. The following is a list of steps that skillful sales consultants should use to turn unhappy customers into happy ones:

  • Tell the customer you know how they feel.
  • Empathize with them. Never argue, get angry or blame others.
  • Put yourself in the customer’s place. Try to understand where they are coming from.
  • Listen carefully and with interest to the whole situation. Make notes to be sure you have collected all the facts. 
  • Ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand the complete situation and then listen carefully to the answers. 
  • Agree with the client whenever possible. 
  • Ask them what would resolve the situation for them.
  • If need be, suggest alternatives that address their concerns.
  • Apologize without laying blame.
  • Offer choices and then get the customer’s agreement that your solution will make them happy. 
  • Confirm back to the client exactly what you will be doing to correct the situation. Tell them you will personally see it gets done. Put it in writing if appropriate. 
  • Make sure what you promise gets done!
  • Keep the customer informed along the way.
  • During the resolution process, try to find some common ground other than the problem (build rapport). Use humor when appropriate.
  • Make a follow-up call after the situation has been resolved.
  • If you are able to successfully resolve the situation, ask for a letter of testimonial that you can use with future prospects.
  • Ask yourself “What have I learned and can I prevent the situation from happening again?” If appropriate – share with your teammates.

Dealing with unhappy customers can drain you physically and emotionally. So, it is very important to take care of yourself personally. As you reflect on the whole process that you’ve gone through resolving these difficult situations, figure out how to relax and recharge your personal batteries. 

It’s a proven fact that it costs five times as much to gain a new customer as it does to keep an existing one. It’s even more costly now with the presence of social media. It’s very easy to rate you and make comments on your service on the various social media sites. Facebook has an average of 130 “friends,” so when you multiply this by all the other sites, it becomes pretty significant. You want good reviews since the bad ones can really put a hurt on you. 

I’ve never thought it was fair that an unhappy client will tell 10 people about their experience, but happy clients only share their experience with two or three folks. What’s fair about that?

Handling unhappy customers can be difficult and can take an extraordinary amount of patience and time. However, when the situations are handled properly, it benefits everybody — you, your company and the customer.

Good selling!