November 6, 2018

By: Amy Castro

No matter how hard you try to prevent unhappy customers, there are always going to be times when customers are unhappy with a product or service. One of the most important things you can do as a business owner or manager is to ensure that you and your staff say the right things to de-escalate situations when they start heating up. The words used to respond to an upset customer can either be water or gasoline tossed on their smoldering emotions. The goal should be for you and your staff to be firefighters, not arsonists! Therefore, here are some “gasoline” words and phrases you should avoid when handling upset customers.

1. Calm down

Never ask or tell customers to calm down. You’ll only make them angrier because you’re implying they’re out of control or they don’t have a right to be upset.

2. It’s our policy

Customers don’t care about your policies. They see policies as rules you’ve created to make your life easier and theirs more difficult. Assuming your policies are created for the good of your customers, share the RATIONALE behind the policy instead. “It’s against our policy to accept returns on opened products,” becomes, “To ensure the health and safety of our customers’ pets, including yours, we can only take returns of unopened products.” Customers won’t necessarily be thrilled, but when they understand the rationale behind your actions, especially if it is something for their benefit, they’ll usually be more accepting.

3. You’ll have to

If you want to see customers do the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you want, just tell them they HAVE TO do something. Once you do, they’ll do whatever they can to prove they don’t have to do anything. Instead, say, “If you…,” “Once you…” or “When you…”

“You’ll have to place this special order online before I can expedite the shipping,” becomes, “If you can place the order online, I can go into the system and expedite it for you.”

4. You should have

Telling customers they should have done something has the same impact as pointing out a mistake or calling them stupid. “Well, you should have read the instructions before feeding the product to your dog,” will seem accusatory and will cause embarrassment, especially because the customer already fed the product to the dog. Instead, focus on what the customer can do the next time to avoid the problem. You might say, “Don’t worry. The product isn’t harmful to dogs. However, let me show you the product specifically designed for dogs so you’ll ensure you have the best product for next time.”

5. As I told you before

If customers repeat a question or request, it means one of two things. First, they didn’t hear you or understand you. Therefore, share the info again without making the point that you’ve already told them. Second, they didn’t like the answer they received and are hoping by asking again, you’ll change your answer to a better one. If you think it’s the latter, acknowledge the request and repeat your response. “I understand you’d like a cash refund and I apologize. What I’m able to offer is a store credit or a replacement product.”

6. You’re not understanding me

Telling customers they don’t understand is the same as calling them stupid or accusing them of not listening, neither of which will result in a happy customer. Besides, maybe it’s you that wasn’t as clear as you could be. Instead, say, “I may not have explained that clearly. Let me see if I can clarify,” then rephrase what you said and perhaps give examples to help make it clearer to the customer.

7. I can’t

When you tell customers what you can’t do for them, you’re wasting everyone’s time. Instead, focus on what you CAN do for them. Instead of saying, “You can’t have an appointment today, we’re booked,” say, “Our first available appointment is tomorrow at 10 a.m.” Instead of saying, “I can’t give you cash back,” say “I can offer you a replacement product or store credit.”

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