Calming down an angry customer by listening

As a sales rep, manager and a business owner, I’ve often had to tell a customer something that they didn’t want to here.  Sometimes, it simply is was it is.

  • The part is out of stock.  
  • We double booked.  
  • What you’re are asking for simply isn’t possible.  
  • We screwed up and it’s going to take 4 days for us to fix it.  
  • The supplier screwed up.  

Whatever it might be.

Sure, it is always better to give the customer what they want but, what do you do when you can’t?

We Want to be Understood

As a manager, I’ve had countless “screaming” customer passed over to me.  The first thing I do is, to begin with, questions and not excuses.  I let them vent.  I paraphrase back to them what I think they are saying.  I use phrases such as, “I think what you are telling me is…., is that correct?

Some people are going to stay pissed off.  That is just the world.  Fortunately, most people actually understand the world is not perfect or fair.  Mistakes and disappointments are a regular part of life.  

The main reason this approach can be so effective is that most people suck at listening and everyone is trying to blame someone else. When an angry customer actually has the rare experience of feeling understood, it’s hard for them to maintain the same level of anger.  They may not be happy, they are still be disappointed, but that’s a lot better than where we started.

Be careful to sound sincere, nonconfrontational and in no way condescending.  This is actually pretty easy when you align your motivations with your desired outcome. 

Our goal is simple.  How do I make this customer less angry? 

Our goal is not:

  • To lie or distort facts.  This will come back to bite you in the ass.
  • How do I convince the customer that they are wrong or unreasonable?
  • How do I show the customer how smart I am?
  • How do I protect my feelings and ego?

Is this approach going to work 100% of the time?  Of course not, some people don’t want to hear what you’re saying, or they just enjoy their own misery too much.  

But in the immortal words of Anchorman’s Brian Fontana, “60% of the time, it works every time!”

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