In customer service, the age-old adage "The customer is always right" is both a mantra and a challenge for CS professionals. While it reflects the importance of prioritizing customer satisfaction, it can sometimes be exploited by the customer. In some situations, customers leverage this saying to their advantage, making your job as a company representative even more challenging.
I have faced many angry customers and thought, "Why me?" It can sometimes be so trying that you would rather go to the dentist than listen to them criticize you at your workplace. I have realized that taking your feelings out of the equation is paramount to successfully communicating with customers. What if I tell you that you can gain control of and navigate disgruntled customers in seven simple steps, and you can do it gracefully using empathy and logic?
What Happens When the Customer Takes Advantage
I am the first to say that the customer is crucial to a business's success. However, some people misinterpret the "customer is always right" statement and view it as a license to demand unrealistic or unreasonable concessions. Here are a few examples of where this can happen:
Unwarranted Refunds or Discounts
Customers may insist on refunds or discounts, even when their complaints are unfounded rather than an actual product or service issues. Often, a representative is so eager to please the customer they are willing to give in rather than create further conflict.
Scope Creep in Customer Services
In a service-based industry, clients might continuously expand the scope of a project without expecting additional charges. Scope creep happens often in my line of work. It can be exhausting, and believe me, the customer is aware of what they are doing. This example is a tricky tactic used to get something for nothing.
In extreme cases, some customers may resort to abusive or disrespectful behavior, believing they can get what they want through intimidation. I have had people curse at me, scream at me, threaten me with legal action, and much more throughout my work-life history. All in the name of doing my job as described.
How did I handle my demanding customers with grace and empathy? Well, it is a skill that every business professional should cultivate. It does not matter what industry you are working in or what position you hold. All businesses rely on customers to remain in business. There will come a time in your career when dealing with a disgruntled customer will become unavoidable. So, I have compiled my top seven simple-to-follow steps to help you navigate these challenging situations and become a customer service pro in no time. The strategies below have been taken in part from my book "The Effective Management of the Human Employee" and have been invaluable to me personally and professionally:
The 7 Strategies
Stay Calm: Saving space in your mind where peace resides is the key to remaining calm in front of your customers. Disassociate their actions from them as a person and don't take it personally. Remember, their complaint may not be solely about you, their service, or even the product. It is more than possible they already had a bad day before encountering you. So, instead of mirroring their attitude and poster, try reflecting the opposite behavior to what they were expecting. Maintain your composure, even if the customer becomes agitated. A calm and collected response sets a positive example and encourages a more civil conversation, which begins the disarming process.
Listen Actively: Listen attentively without interruption when a customer expresses dissatisfaction. Let them voice their concerns fully, allowing them to feel heard and valued. Showing you are genuinely concerned with their feelings often continues disarming people. Mainly because, often, they are so used to people simply not listening to them or dismissing their feelings. So, to speak with someone who actually cares is refreshing.
Empathize: Once your active listening disarms them, show genuine empathy by acknowledging their frustration or disappointment. Empathy can defuse tension and establish a connection. Have you ever noticed that when someone is venting, they often look for someone who shares their viewpoint? There is a reason for that. People want to feel like they are understood and seen. No one likes to feel dismissed or ignored.
Clarify Expectations: Once disarmed, if the customer's demands still seem unreasonable, diplomatically clarify the boundaries of your company's policies or terms. Allow time for the information to digest before offering them a preferred solution.
Offer a Solution: Propose solutions that are fair, reasonable, and aligned with your company's policies. Be open to compromises to resolve the issue to the customer's satisfaction. Speak kindly and humbly because no one wants to feel like they are a burden or a pain. Do not act as if they should be happy you are helping them or as if you are doing them a favor. Let them know that it is your job and joy to ensure they have a wonderful experience with your company and that helping them is your pleasure.
Escalation if Necessary: If the customer continues to be unreasonable or abusive, do not verbally combat them. Nothing is worse than watching customers and employees fight it out in a word battle royale. If you can not civilly handle the situation, politely inform them of your intention to escalate the matter to a supervisor or manager. Doing that demonstrates that you take their concerns seriously while maintaining your professionalism.
Feedback for Improvement in Customer Service: Use these interactions as opportunities for improvement. Customer feedback, even when negative, can offer valuable insights into areas where you can grow professionally.
How to Balance Empathy and Logic in Customer Service
Balancing empathy and logic is crucial in managing customer expectations. While it's essential to empathize with the customer's emotions, it's equally vital to maintain a logical approach to problem-solving. So, empathize with the customer's feelings and concerns. Let them know you understand their perspective. Once you've established a connection, calmly and logically explain your company's policies, terms, or limitations that apply to the situation. After that, you may offer logical solutions that address the customer's needs while adhering to your business's guidelines. This is how you find common ground. By exploring options that benefit both the customer and your business. This also demonstrates a willingness to compromise and find a win-win solution. After resolving the issue, document the interaction for reference and learning purposes. If you are a manager or owner, use it as a case study to improve your customer service strategies.
So, while "the customer is always right" is a guiding principle in customer service, it should be approached with a balanced perspective. Some customers may attempt to exploit this notion. Still, as a professional, you can learn to navigate these challenges with grace and empathy by staying calm, actively listening, empathizing, and using logical problem-solving to transform disgruntled customers into satisfied ones while maintaining your integrity and upholding your company's policies. Ultimately, these interactions serve as opportunities for growth and improvement, strengthening the customer-business relationship. For more information on my book, The Effective Management of the Human Employee, use the link to visit Amazon.