Tag: customer service

Customers from hell – part 3

Nobody likes dealing with miserable people, and in parts 1 and 2 of this series we looked at how important issues of self-image and self-esteem created unhappiness and obnoxious behaviour. I also discussed that there are serious consequences that both you and the unfortunate other party have to deal with when we are unable to resolve problems and complaints effectively. In this final article I want to share some more practical ideas for dealing with these.

In any “customer from hell” situation, we need to assume that you have made all efforts to deal reasonably with the unhappiness. An easy way to remember what to do is summarised in the acronym LESTER.

• Listen carefully to what the unhappy customer is complaining about
• Empathise with them
• Say sorry and apologise
• Thank them for bringing it to your attention, and for having the courage to complain rather than just bad-mouthing your business, defecting to a rival, or worse. And then, when they are calm
• Explore options and explain what you can do, and finally
• Rectify the problem with a win:win solution, (following up to make sure it was truly resolved.)

But we are not dealing with normal, unhappy customers and their complaints and problems in this article. We are discussing the emotional, irrational, illogical and unreasonable customers from hell that don’t respond to all of your efforts to help them. You must be able to protect yourself from such individuals, because of the awful effect that they have on you. That one person that you have to deal with makes you forget the other 99% of nice people that you deal with on a day-to-day basis. The terrible memories of this encounter will stay vividly in your mind for a very long time. It makes work very unpleasant, and is demoralising and demotivating for everyone involved. Most importantly, it starts eating away at your own confidence, esteem and self-worth.

There are a few choices that you have in dealing with these customers…

• Laugh it off: Not always easy, but remember it’s mostly their problem, not yours. Of course, they will do their best to get you caught up in their problem – and their dramas.

• Just accept their behaviour, and allow the abuse to continue. It may be that this customer from hell is too important to your business, or has too much power for you to deal with. I don’t like this option, however, because if you allow the abuse to continue, it will continue, and maybe get even worse. More importantly what about the effect that this has on you? If you have no choice, protect yourself from these individuals by talking to somebody, or by taking out your frustrations somehow. Remember that ships don’t sink because of the water around them… They sink because of the water that gets in them. Are you going to allow this to happen in your life, and allow things to weigh you down? Do anything to let it go. Alternatively, just laugh it off.

• Confront with equal aggression: also not a good choice most of the time, because they will not like it, and the resulting consequences may be even worse. Also, don’t forget that passive aggression where you come up with creative ways of taking revenge on them or putting them down, is just as bad as real aggression.

• Confront assertively, by interrupting them in a firm voice to say something like this: “Mr. Smith, I want to help you, but I can’t do that while you are aggressive/abusive/shouting at me. Will you allow me to do so?” This is particularly important when customers become abusive and threaten you, bully you, insult you or even get physically violent. You need to be able to “draw a line in the sand” so to speak, and to let them know that their behaviour is not acceptable.

• Put the ball in their court. You may want to try this out: tell them that you have now come to the point where you have exhausted all of your options. You have tried everything in your power to help them, and they have not responded. “What do you want me to do?” There are three possible answers to this question. First, they may tell you what they want, and it’s impossible for you to do that, so you are going to have to say “No.” Second, they may tell you what they want, and you are able to respond to that, in which case do it and move on. But there is also a third possibility: they don’t respond, because they can’t think of anything else that you can do. At this stage, they may come to the realization that you have done your best, but don’t expect them to readily admit that. But at least they may become more reasonable.

• Cut the anchor: let them go. This is a tricky one, and we suggest that you check it out with your manager first. But if the abuse is becoming too much for you to deal with, you could say something like: “Mr. Jones, I am uncomfortable with all of the swearing and insults that you are shouting at me. With the greatest respect to you, I am now going to walk away, (or put the telephone down. Goodbye” And then walk away or put the telephone down softly. (In fact, pass them onto your competitors!) Don’t wrestle with pigs. It will get you all muddy and the pigs will love it.
• Just keep trying to sort it out, whatever it takes. If you do manage to turn them around, and you keep trying everything you can to turn them around, you may find a customer for life. What often helps is if you in fact tell them that you will not give up on them, ever.

Some final thoughts

• It’s obvious that you need a really great sense of humour to be able to deal with these abusive customers, and, as one author put it, “A thick skin is a gift from God.”

• David may have fought Goliath – but he didn’t choose to wrestle him. Choose your battles carefully

• Don’t take things personally. Remember that what people say is more a reflection of them, their reality, not a reflection of you.

• Be kind to unkind people – they need it the most

I’d like to end off with a line from one of my favourite lines from the poem “If,” written by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs’, and blaming it on you…
Then yours is the earth and everything that’s on it.

By Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of Leadership Launchpad

Dealing with customers from hell

No less a respected journal than The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently published an article entitled, Stay Calm When Someone Is Getting on Your Nerves. “Come on, HBR,” I thought to myself, “Is this the best you can do? Nothing like stating something that is so blindingly obvious!”

The basic theme of the article was that we all have people – and customers – who irritate us. People who interrupt, people who are filled with arrogance or sheer stupidity, people who are unreasonable, irrational, and emotional and who blame us personally for everything that is wrong in the world. And that excludes the anonymous people who post nasty things in the social media, and the self-important bullies who can only feel good about themselves if they put you down.

Then the authors write: “To help yourself, remain calm in these situations, acknowledge your emotions and think through why you’re reacting the way you are. For example, you might get angry about being interrupted because it was a major problem at your last job or in a prior personal relationship. Don’t let those associations control you…”

And yet… if an esteemed publication like the HBR feels a need to publish such an article, maybe it’s because most people don’t get it. You are definitely going to occasionally get the “customer from hell.” You may have tried all of the best strategies in the world, maybe even used some of the hints for dealing with complaints, problems and anger covered in one of my previous columns.

There are probably only a handful of responses to people like this, but I have to completely agree that it all starts with you. Whenever I see bad behaviour, whenever I see people troubled in their lives, or whenever there is some conflict or event that challenges all of the things that glue society together, then the first place I look is at the self-esteem.

Why is it true that some people let the smallest thing spark off rage, while others seem to be able to remain calm, no matter what happens? When someone needs to behave in this obnoxious, aggressive and hurtful way, what are they saying about themselves? It’s because they feel weak and vulnerable and insecure. I know the times when I flash a fist at a taxi driver, or snap at someone, or slam a door, those are not the times when I feel good about myself, happy with who I am, and when I just know that the world is just a great, forgiving, generous abundant place. They are the times when I feel fearful, hurt, and out of control. (Under different circumstances when they aren’t attacking you, you may even feel sorry for the customers from hell.)

If we paint the opposite picture, it becomes even more obvious: people who feel optimistic, positive, and who like themselves don’t need to behave like this. They are generous, kind, sensitive, empathetic and helpful towards others.

So how should you deal with your own negative feelings? Many people believe – incorrectly – that bad emotions are always dangerous and powerful. If we express these feelings openly, then we’ll be less popular, lose someone’s love and admiration, or provoke someone’s anger, boredom or dislike. This – being liked by everybody all of the time – is unrealistic. People also believe – and also incorrectly – that it’s unhealthy or dishonest to try to control how they express their feelings. They believe that they have a right, indeed a responsibility, to let people aggressively know how they feel in any manner they choose, no matter what the circumstances or the consequences.

Therefore, there are only two ways we can deal with bad emotions: repress them or express them in the form in which we experience them, that is, negatively. Both of these can be pretty destructive. Repressing your negative feelings happens in one of two ways: denial, (“I can’t admit having these negative emotions,”) or suppression, (“I know how I feel, but I can’t think of a constructive way to express these feelings, so I won’t display them.”) If you do this, you know that you may be sparing others, but hurting yourself. But if you don’t deal with these feelings, they won’t go away. Instead, they show themselves in some of the following symptoms: depression, physical illness, (including headaches, stiff muscles, insomnia, eating disorders, ulcers and even heart attacks,) low self-esteem, emotional withdrawal, (we become apathetic, unenthusiastic, indifferent and uninvolved, just going through the motions,) and even recourse to drugs and alcohol, (we seek escape through substance abuse.)

Destructive expression, on the other hand, can also hurt the recipients and alienate people from you. Moody people thus become isolated from others, often lashing out at the nearest target, and feeling terrible afterwards. They show some of the following behaviours: temper tantrums, (childish, inappropriate, and uncontrolled anger that can be triggered by even trivial things – some of them going back years and years,) sulking and “the silent treatment,” (in which they refuse to explain why they are upset,) and sarcasm, (because they are reluctant to confront the cause of their bad mood directly.) In groups we sometimes call these “passive aggressive” behaviours.

Remember that we have already established the fact that defensive behaviour does not help. Yes, criticism is hard to accept especially when you work hard, when you are trying to please people, and when you feel it is unjustified. It is hurtful. But trying to justify your behaviour, or even trying to shift the blame or prove that the other person is wrong, is futile. They will all be rejected by the other person unless you have worked through all of the conflict and anger.

Of course you have a right to feel anger and express it sometimes. Anger doesn’t have to lead to violence or more anger. Your goal is to learn to deal with anger more constructively, not to ignore it or to repress it. Also, don’t rationalise your reluctance to express anger. Excuses like, “I won’t say anything because I’ll hurt the other person’s feelings,” are ways of explaining to yourself why you don’t do what you have never learned to do. Instead of dwelling on the reasons why you don’t express anger, concentrate on learning how to do it.

There’s a lovely legend I’d like to end off with: One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Goodness – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

If you feel strong, confident, secure, and have good self-esteem, you will be able to deal with unhappy and abusive people, no matter what they throw at you. This is the big secret of keeping yourself calm.

In part 2 of this series we will look at some of the practical things you can do to calm down upset customers.

By Aki Kalliatakis, managing partner of Leadership Launchpad

Satisfaction guaranteed!

My Office magazine’s simple guide to giving – and getting – great customer service.

Giving great customer service

If you’re in the business of selling products and services, a content and loyal customer is worth their weight in gold.
However, as technologically-enhanced, real-time communication grows, a dissatisfied customer can be a ticking time-bomb that can do significant damage to your brand’s reputation.


Choose the right medium

It’s vital to know when to use technology-based services and when to rely on human interaction. An online form or automated response might work for a customer who’s looking for efficiency and a quick fix, but someone who’s desperately seeking consolation, advice or assistance won’t react well to a machine. Train service agents to know when which form of service is most appropriate.

Streamline consultancy

Working with one consultant is invaluable for customers. One point of contact simplifies exchange, makes problem solving efficient and decreases frustration levels. This system also allows consultants to build strong and lasting relationships with clients.

Reward valuable customers

Tailored services for long-standing clients, as well as new and existing “big spenders”, are a useful value-add – whether it’s additional or personalised services, or exclusive benefits. This can result in significant growth and investment from the customer’s side.

Listen

“Customer service” often drums up images of sub-par call centres, but valuable support can be offered in so many ways. Social media, if used properly, can be a powerful tool to gain insights from customers to improve service. Feedback is never diluted and happens in realtime, which is a huge asset if managed properly.

Offer specialised support

Effective communication is the first tenant of great customer service. This means if your customer service support team isn’t speaking the same language as your customers – literally and figuratively – you’ll never be offering the best service possible. Make sure your support team is tailored according to region, accents and even vernacular, to ensure a fruitful exchange.

Fix issues quickly

As far as possible, make sure customers’ issues are resolved the very first time they complain, so clients experience the least downtime and maximise efficiency. First time fix (FTF) is a sure-fire way to get repeat business.

Follow up

A customer scorned once is dangerous; a customer scorned twice is fatal – and they will not hesitate to make their plight known. Even after the resolution of an issue, there should always be some kind of follow-up communication to check the problem hasn’t returned, and the client is happy. It never goes amiss.

Getting great customer service

Have you ever wondered how some people always seem to get the best table, the upgraded room or the best piece of meat at the market? Conversely, others seem to continually get the surly waiter, the lazy clerk or the indifferent bellhop.
Great customer service is no accident; there are things you can do to get it. Indeed, those who receive the most professional, courteous and friendly service follow a deliberate recipe that turns even a cold and raw initial encounter into a warm and delicious experience.

Here are six tips for almost always getting great customer service:

Be positive

Enter the scene with the expectation that greatness is about to happen and that it should happen to you. Visualise being served well. Then let your obvious positive attitude and confident expectation come from your terrific mental picture. Avoid making demands. Instead, put your energy into creating early, light-hearted vibes.

Make a good first impression

The first 10 seconds are vital to shaping the reception you are likely to get. Aim your eyes and best smile at the service provider. Deliver a friendly greeting. Be confident, but not aggressive or pushy. Optimism and joy are generally infectious. Remember, servers favour customers who are a pleasure to serve.

Lend a hand

Most service people really are eager to give great service. But sometimes barriers can make it difficult. So, be a willing helper in clearing those barriers away. If the barrier is the server’s foul mood, try a quick tease or sincere compliment to turn sour into sunny. If the barrier is an absurd policy, offer a novel suggestion that helps you get what you want without putting your service person at risk of managerial disdain.

Be respectful

No matter how determined a service provider seems to be to provide the absolute bare minimum, always treat them with respect. Sometimes a “no!” is an unshakable “no”.
Always use your very best manners: “please”, “sir” and “thank you”. Remember that a chilly initial reception will generally thaw if you are persistent in your cheerfulness. Your server just might surprise you with a turnaround attitude late in the encounter.

Be playful

Use a playful style that lets the service person be a bit mischievous. Instead of announcing: “I’d like a no-smoking table with a view”, try: “We’d love to get the table that you would want if this was your special night. I know you can get us just the right spot.”
If you help make service delivery feel fun, you’ll have servers wanting to join you on the playground.

Be generous and thoughtful

Never view a service encounter as a single transaction, but rather the start of an important relationship. Assume you’ll be back, and be generous in expressing your gratitude for great service.
Praise service people to their superiors. Express your compliments to great service providers with a follow-up note or call. The next time you return, you’ll get their red carpet best.

Don’t wait for great service to come to you. Take charge of elevating the encounter from a “pretty good” transaction to an “I wouldn’t go anywhere else” relationship.

Service people enjoy great customers just as much as customers enjoy great servers. So, “serve” from your heart and you’ll be served in the same fashion.

Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, which is currently undergoing a major R2-billion redevelopment, has introduced a unique concierge ambassadors programme to minimise inconvenience to shoppers. Twelve fully trained concierge ambassadors are stationed at the busiest nodes of the mall to advise and guide shoppers during trading hours, seven days a week.

“During a refurbishment project such as the one we’ve implemented, it’s very important to make sure that shoppers are well informed of the processes that are underway. This is one of the reasons why the concierge ambassador programme was started,” says Andrea de Wit, marketing manager of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre.

Apart from helping shoppers to navigate through the centre during renovations, the ambassadors provide helpful hints and updates on new tenants. “Our shoppers have been thoroughly delighted by this initiative and it’s had a positive effect on our footfall numbers over this period.”

The ambassadors are stationed in the existing centre, in the Village (the “temporary mall”) and in Grocery Avenue, which contains the centre’s main food and grocery outlets. They will be on duty right through to December 2016, seeing the centre through most of its renovations.

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