|Your most important
customer is the one you have in front of you right now.
Lauderbaugh & Associates
"How to Deal with Irate Customers"
by JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC
It's Friday morning at the office and you hear the phone ringing
incessantly. All support people have evaporated into thin air.
You answer it to find a woman ranting and raving about a mistake that
occurred the day before with one of your people: You find it embarrassing and try to calm
her, but she won't listen. Finally, you manage to get the story and you realize that your
water treatment company is on the verge of losing this woman's business if something isn't
The fact that she is complaining says a lot! People don't complain unless they want you to
hear, "I'm not happy with the way you're doing business and here's what's wrong. If
you'll make these changes, I'll remain a customer!" If you listen and work to give
her what she wants, she might refrain from taking her business elsewhere.
Most people don't complain, they just go somewhere else and we never know why they left.
In fact, studies show that only four percent of our unhappy customers complain, the other
96 percent vote with their feet and go to the competition. What do you do when you have a complaint,
especially if the comparable business is right down the street?
Last September, I was the opening keynote speaker at the Pacific Water Quality Association
Conference in Anaheim, California. To customize my presentation, I spoke to a number of
members about their current challenges and complaints. One member said, "When we
don't get complaints, we assume we don't have any problems. Our attitude is, let the
sleeping dog lie." He said he knew this was a time bomb waiting to go off, but he
also felt helpless to do anything about it in an understaffed, small operation.
The day-to-day business of handling the phones, demonstrating equipment, functioning as a
route salesperson, maintenance person, conducting credit checks, keeping computer input
updated, and tracking other company functions leaves little time
for managers in small operations to do much more than put out the necessary fires. Do you
want to be in business in five years? If your answer is yes, then a mind set, culture and
attitude change may be due in your management style, especially in handling irate
Teach yourself and your people to partner with your customers through the functions of the
day. Whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer, treat each person as though he
or she is the most important person of your day, every day! When a complaint is heard,
take the time to discover why the customer is upset so changes can be made to save that
others, who may not be complaining. Look for consistencies and multiple complaints in
Your customers are cost driven, looking for the cheapest products, and if you don't have
an edge on price or product, you must have an edge on customer service. The service
culture you create now to care for your customers can be the savior of your business.
Become a customer service fanatic in every aspect of the business. Create customer demand
for your products because of your extraordinary service.
Everyone in your organization needs to be an important part of that service culture. This
is when each one of your people accepts full responsibility for the customer's experience,
regardless of the circumstances. Customers know they're in good
hands and will be given the benefit of the doubt. They also buy again from people they
like, based on their emotions about your service.
Use your manpower more efficiently to care for your customers.
Make every contact count, every day! Use a self-evaluating 1 to 10 scale.
Say to yourself, on that last phone call or sales/service call, I was a 5, with 10 being
the best. Ask yourself, how could I have been an 8 or higher? You may think, I could have
listened better and not interrupted when he wanted to vent. I should have used some
defusing words to calm him, such as "I can appreciate how inconvenienced you
were." I should not have argued or been defensive, and I should have thanked him for
letting us know we have a situation to correct. On the next call or interface, you decide
you'll be an 8, regardless of the circumstances. This self-correcting game you play with
yourself has huge benefits and rewards for everyone in your dealership.
Differentiate yourself from your competition with your service. Advertise it as
exceptional, and make sure you deliver. Never over promise
and under deliver. Do the reverse! Start by cleaning house with your present staff. Ask
yourself, are they good communicators with above average people skills? Do your customers'
faces light up with a smile when they see or hear from them? Are they goal oriented? Do
they have a professional appearance? Do they clean up after installation and maintenance
work without having to be asked? Do they consistently show they care about their customers
as people? Do they have positive attitudes, and are they willing to change, take risks and
most importantly grow?
If your people don't present the professional, friendly, and caring image you need, have
the courage to help them find a job in which they would be better suited. It may not be
with your company, and you'll need to hire replacements. Remember to hire your new
recruits on people skills and attitude; you can usually teach them the business. During
the interview process, you talk 20 percent of the time and let them answer your questions
and speak 80 percent of the time. One of the reasons people are in the wrong jobs is
because interviewers reversed the percentages, and sold the applicant on taking the job.
Once you have the right people, teach them to come from the heart. Do that by
demonstrating it yourself, with them. As management, treat them the way you want them to
treat your customers. There is a direct correlation back to the way management treats
staff. If a person reports to you, you are
their greatest motivation!
Some good mottos used by companies are, "Give the customer whoever and whatever they
need to make the situation right," and "Never argue with or make the customer
wrong!" No, you aren't to be a doormat either as there are phrases to avoid and
others to use that will accomplish this. Everyone needs these tools so they are prepared
in all circumstances. Supplying the words and phrases helps tremendously, but role playing
will "lock in" the
information so they use it. Give your people a no-risk environment to make their mistakes
and find their successes. And tell them that they don't have to be good at it to get this
When everyone in your company is a customer service fanatic, they readily take
responsibility for the customer's experience. They look for new ways to interface with the
customer. They enjoy hands-on selling of filters and other products, and they know they
are actually offering the customer an additional service to save them time, stress and
money. They enjoy the process and also know they are helping to provide a higher quality
of water than standards demand.
And remember, a manager who wears many hats often develops bad habits of getting
over-stressed and serious with life. You and your employees need to take enough
"down" times to recharge. Then you can continue to be customer service fanatics,
ready for that rare, irate customer.
1997 - 2012
JJ Lauderbaugh, CMC
JJ Lauderbaugh is an international speaker, trainer and
who specializes in customer service management.
JJ may be reached at:
Phone (408) 445-1590