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No matter how professional we believe our customer service delivery to be, sometimes an unhappy customer calls us up and sparks are quite literally, about to fly!

So, how do we defuse the firework before we get our fingers burnt?

Too often when we manage a situation with an unhappy customer, we jump straight into solution-mode. And this makes sense; it’s the rational response, in a way. Most of us - to some degree, are conflict adverse, so when we’re faced with a customer who has negative feelings about our company, our products/ services – or even us, it’s perfectly natural to want to get the situation dealt with as swiftly as possible and move on!

But is this the best thing for the customer?

Of course they don’t want to waste their time, but they do want to feel like they have your time, particularly if they’re unhappy! If you’re rushing through to the solution, what message does that give out to them?

Consider a time when you called up to complain about something and the customer service representative proficiently fixed your issue. But, after hanging up the call, you STILL felt disgruntled. Why?

Usually, it is because the customer service person failed to understand that, with an upset customer, there are two problems that need addressing:

#1. The issue the customer has brought to you
#2. The vexed customer!

Firstly, we must try and fix the vexed customer. How?

Here are my tips:

1. Let the customer vent. Allow them to get all their frustration out on the table, and critically, don’t interrupt!
2. Listen to the customer – I don’t just mean ‘hear’ what they have to say, but actively listen to what they are telling you. Paraphrase and summarise what they are saying to check your understanding. This demonstrates that you want to ensure you have got things right and that you care about what they are telling you.
3. Validate their emotions – you might say “I’d be very frustrated too if my order went astray for the second time!” or “You have every right to be upset/ cross/ frustrated – it sounds like we’ve let you down”.
4. Apologise – again, another area we so often overlook - so keen are we to ‘fix’ things!
5. Explain what you will do to put the situation right. Give them detail and specific timelines if possible. If you can, share what you will do to try and prevent a recurrence.
6. Ask them if they feel that the issue has been resolved and thank them for bringing it to your attention.

And, in my mind one of the most important things…

7. Follow up with them! Call them in a day or so to ask whether everything is okay. Defusing the firework before it explodes can give us an opportunity to actually strengthen the relationship with an unhappy customer!

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