The Scenario: An angry customer is “venting” at me, demanding that her problem be fixed.
Passive reaction: I am intimidated by her outburst and bend the company rules to give her what she wants. Immediate problem (irate customer on my hands) solved, but if I keep on giving in to angry outbursts I could build a reputation as one who can be bossed around, and so could my organization. Customers would most likely not learn to respect me, or my company policy. I could end up being and feeling disrespected and gradually resent my role.
Assertive response: (Politely, pleasantly, but firmly, maintaining non-threatening eye contact and posture) “Thank you for bringing your complaint to me Ms/Mrs. X. I can see that you have been unfairly treated and this is unacceptable. I apologize for (whatever went wrong) and will take immediate steps to (whatever you intend to do to resolve the problem). Is this OK Ms/Mrs. X? Is there anything more I can do to help?” I listen to the customer, take note of her concerns, reassure her, then follow the rest of company procedure to settle the grievance.
Should Ms/Mrs. X continue with her tantrum:
Assertive response: (Politely, pleasantly, but firmly, maintaining non-threatening eye contact and posture) “ I am sorry Ms/Mrs. X but you are shouting/using abusive language/becoming disruptive. I would like to resolve this issue immediately but we cannot continue with this discussion while you are acting this way. Would you like a few minutes to calm down, and then we can try again? Or would you like to come back another time to continue this discussion? I would be happy to schedule another meeting with you.” If Ms/Mrs. X opts to calm down and try again I could ask if she would like some tea/water/to get some fresh air outside/to use the conveniences e.t.c. If she decides to return, I would apologize for the inconvenience and reschedule another meeting. Or whatever the company policy says.
Points to ponder:
(a) Irate customers returning to you is a good sign. They are talking to you, not your competitors or other customers.
(b) Handling a grievance is another opportunity to shore up your company image. Make good use of it. Follow up on it.
(c) Don’t take customer outbursts personally. You are fulfilling a role, even if you own the business. Handle the complaint in your role. Then leave it behind as you go home.
(d) The way you handle complaints and outbursts decides whether you, and your business will be respected and treated better next time, or not.
(e) It is possible to be polite and unpleasant at the same time. When handling grievances take care to be both polite and pleasant, as well as firm.
(f) It is important to maintain eye contact as you speak to complaining customers. This shows you are giving them your full attention and take their issues seriously. However, eye contact should be warm and non-threatening. A stare could be intimidating or aggravating. A warm, empathic look could encourage the customer to open up more calmly.
(g) Remember that body language communicates as well as words. Your posture should be open and non-threatening, just like your eye contact.
(h) It is not about you or the customer being right. It’s about achieving win-win for all.
(i) Assertiveness often calls for being proactive. You may need to take the lead to achieve positive outcomes.
Assertiveness helps us communicate with others in ways that achieve profitable outcomes for all concerned. In the above example we diffuse a near-explosive situation, get the chance to repair the client relationship, take steps to rebuild a battered brand, establish respect for staff and company policy, make our role less stressful and help the client get what she wants. Totally win-win, I’d say!