How to Handle Difficult Customers
April 5, 2012 - 3:02pm
Dr. Rick Brinkman shares tips on how to please your most difficult-to-please customers.

Residential Lighting: How do we handle an irate shopper?

Dr. Rick Brinkman: The customer wants to feel cared about. A study was once done by the White House Dept. of Consumer Affairs on why businesses lose customers: One percent die, 3 percent move away, 5 percent are referred else-where by a friend, 9 percent prefer a competitor, 14 percent don’t like your product or service and 68 percent feel the supplier is disinterested or indifferent.

Show them first that you care. “Oh, no! That’s terrible! The chandelier did what?” The big mistake a service professional will make is trying to get right down to the issues. You can’t deal with issues when people are emotional. You must handle the emotions first. 

RL: What’s the best way?

RB: Make them feel understood. My car wouldn’t start, [I] brought it to the dealership and $800 later, it wouldn’t start again. The person at the dealership said, “I can’t believe we did that to you. We’ve really let you down. You’ve been inconvenienced enough!” She made three statements of emotional empathy about my situation.

If she had said, “Name? Invoice number? Date?” I would have gotten more upset. She’d think, “Great, I have this jerk customer,” but she would have put gasoline on the fire.

Interestingly, there is a “generalization point” in human behavior. If we stop at three red lights, we say all lights are red today. If we meet three people in a bad mood, we say everyone is in a bad mood. When the gal at my dealership [made those three statements], she hit a generalization point. I felt she totally understood me.

RL: What else can we do?

RB: Make a statement of intent. You could be on the road to recovery, but the customer may not know it. I urge people to think of communication like a phone number. Intent is like the?area code; you put it upfront. “I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but we’re going to look in this book and figure it out.” If you just start flipping through the book, the customer may get worked up because they won’t know what you’re doing.

RL: How do we get to recovery?

RB: Give a back-track summary. Ask the customer, “Do you feel like I understand?” If they do, then ask, “Would you like to hear what we can do for you?” They are going to say, “Yeah, of course!” Now the horse has lead you to water. They are ready for the solution.

RL: What if you can’t offer a solution?

RB: The customer still wants to feel cared about. You may have to say, “I’m really sorry, but we can’t do what you want.” You can try to dig deeper, but you have to maintain the problem-solving alliance. Say, “The problem we have is this ….” Use the phrase “the problem”—depersonalize it. Explain the limitations, and then say, “Given those limitations, is there some-thing else we can do to make this work?”

Just be careful about “dextifying”: Defend, explain, justify—dextify. It will sound like you are making excuses. You can’t get defensive. You can’t get into too much detail explaining why you can’t take back a $1,000 chandelier. The customer won’t want to hear it. Give a little explanation, not all the details.

Dr. Rick Brinkman is best known for his Conscious Communication seminars and national training programs. Once named “Funniest Speaker of the Year,” he recently co-authored the book Love Thy Customer: Creating Delight, Preventing Dissatisfaction, and Pleasing Your Hardest-to-Please Customer.

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