Facing an angry customer

by Norma

Don’t let anger lead to a break up

angry-customerKaren Salmansohn, of Oprah.com, recently wrote, “I can sum up in three “acts” the breakdowns and breakups of most relationships since the beginning of time:

Act 1: You hurt me.

Act 2: Because you hurt me, I now hurt you.

Act 3: Because you hurt me, I now hurt you and so you hurt me again and so I hurt you — and downward spiraling we shall go.”

Then she suggests 5 ways couples can avoid being jerks when fighting. Let’s see how these will work with a confrontational customer.

1. Pick the right time and the right place.

Find a place to talk openly, not self-consciously. A private office is ideal but anywhere you can face each other and make strong eye contact will work. In moving your angry customer out of the public eye, neither of you has to play for an audience, and you have demonstrated that you take his concerns seriously. Do the best you can–step outside or take him for coffee if necessary.

2. Avoid harsh start-ups.

Salmansohn says to start with a compliment about what you appreciate instead of blaming and name calling. I’m thinking she might frown on, “I appreciate your many years of patronage, but this is all your fault, you jerk!”

She’d probably think I was backing my customer into a corner where he now starts defending himself instead of hearing about my position and business needs.

She advises including a reminder about how you want to work on your [business]relationship, so it succeeds and you both can grow together. That is what you want? Good. Start calmly explaining how the conflict affects your feelings, values, dreams and goals relating to your business and customers. Keep the conversation on the topic and don’t let it esculate to wider fields.

3. Instead of trying to win arguments, try to have a winning relationship!

Your goal is to retain your customer. The particulars of details and facts are secondary. Remember how hard it was to get his business in the first place and how much real hard cash you’ll have to shell out to replace his business. Consider all that you have invested and all that you may stand to gain in the future.

Maybe the customer is wrong this time–he should pay his bill. He owes you the money. Are you talking about a tuna sandwich and cold cup of coffee from a regular at your lunch counter, or two solid months of building and testing custom software that he now says exceeds your cost projections. Must these businessmen write off their tabs with smiles? Maybe just the sandwich and coffee?

Maybe not either one if the owners stick with giving their feelings, values, dreams and goals to gain customer empathy.

If you make yourself understood, he’ll be more inclined to hear your side and start looking for how to take care of your needs and feelings.

4. Put in the ‘virtue of discipline’ to calm yourself before you begin talking.

I learned a surprising fact. When people yell, they grow even angrier. When our heartbeats go higher than 100 beats per minute during an argument, we cannot totally understand and process what another person says.

Anger messes up the brain’s processing. Instead of solving problems and expressing ourself clearly, we more likely spit, sputter and well, as Marcus Aurelius said, “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger, than the causes of it?”

They knew this way back then? Maybe it’s time I figured it out, too.

5. Close a difficult conversation by sharing memories of good times and/or your partner’s good qualities.

Salmansohn tells us happier memories defuse bad ones. Our lunch counter entrepreneur might say something like, “I remember the first time you came in for lunch. You remember that? How about I get you sandwich more to your liking?”

Might our software engineer defuse the bomb with saying, “Remember when we started this project? How it would help us both? Any ideas how to turn this around, get back to that?”

Yeah, why settle for a stroll down memory lane when you can also solicit the customer’s help.

Read Salmansohn’s full article on CNN.com

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Alicia Luckett November 19, 2009 at 1:57 pm

I had to break up with a client and it was very hard to do. After it was all over I felt totally better.


Norma November 19, 2009 at 5:09 pm

There are times when, after weighing the costs, including the emotional costs, the best solution is to break up. I try to part ways as professionally as possible…”thank you for doing business with us in the past. Best luck in the future…” sort of thing. My brother, however, raises prices until the customer goes elsewhere, or until he’s happy to keep the customer.


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