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Keeping Your Cool When the Customer Gets Hot

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette and protocol expert, professional speaker, and corporate trainer.  She is the founder of Manners That Sell™ and the author of Manners That Sell—Adding the Polish That Builds Profits.  For more information about her programs, products and services, contact her at lydia@mannersthatsell.com or visit http://www.mannersthatsell.com/

A day in at the office can be filled with joy and satisfaction or it can be frustrating and stressful.  When things go wrong, some people lose control. Holding emotions in check and reacting professionally while under fire is not always easy.  It is particularly difficult to be nice to people who are not being nice to you.

So what do you do to keep your cool when the customer is chewing you out?  Most of the time, the customer’s dissatisfaction is not even your fault.  It could be that the problem was with a product or a service delivered by someone else in your organization. You’re getting the blame because the unhappy person found you first, and it’s not pleasant.  When faced with angry people, there are four key steps that will help diffuse the situation.

Step 1:  Apologize.  “But,” you say, “it’s not my fault.”  It doesn’t matter who’s to blame; apologize anyway.  As a representative of your company you have a responsibility to see that things go well. Your willingness to be accountable will have a positive effect.  After all, it takes two to have an argument. If one of you refuses to be disagreeable you can’t have a disagreement. You are not accepting blame—you are simply saying, “I’m sorry about the problem.”  You are wasting your breath unless you apologize with complete sincerity, so be sure that your tone of voice matches your words.

Step 2:  Sympathize with the irate customer. Let the person know that you identify with his feelings.  Tell him that you understand the frustration of receiving a faulty product or poor service.  The angry person will begin to feel better as soon as his reaction has been validated.

Step 3:  Accept responsibility for the situation.  Be accountable to the customer.  Let him know that you intend to do whatever it takes to make things right. You can’t help what has already happened, but you will come up with a solution to the problem or you will find someone who can.

Step 4:  Take action.  Decide what you can do to remedy the situation and tell the customer, i.e., “I will replace the defective or incorrect product as quickly as possible.”  If the issue was poor service, deliver better service. And if you can offer a bonus of some sort or waive fees, the tiger before you will be transformed into a pussycat.

Use the acronym “ASAP” to remember these four steps for calming upset customers. Each letter stands for part of the process.

A:  “Apologize.”
S:   “Sympathize.”
A:  “Accept responsibility.”
P:   “Prepare to take action.”

Nothing will be solved if you become argumentative and reactionary; you’ll only fan the flames of the customer’s anger.  Instead, diffuse the situation by being apologetic and sympathetic and by focusing on positive steps that will resolve the situation. Before you know it, your adversaries will become your allies.

One more thing: remember to smile. It will make everyone feel better and behave better.

© Lydia Ramsey. All rights in all media reserved