The perception of an experience varies from person to person and what one person considers as the best feature of your brand may in fact be the least favourite feature for another. Here’s an example – For me, visiting a record store is one of those activities that I’d rather do by myself and here’s why – I like the records to be arranged genre-wise in an alphabetical order.
My partner, on the other hand, finds this arrangement absolutely annoying and prefers a genre-wise, chronological arrangement. While I find this amusing, the sales people there would in no way agree with me. It is a challenge every time for them to please him simply because there’s nothing anyone can do to make it a pleasant experience for him! The result? He is unhappy, frustrated and almost grumpy and the sales guys are left feeling helpless and mildly relieved to have gotten rid of us!
An angry, disgruntled, irate customer – If we haven’t faced one, we’ve been one at one point or another. Even the most nonchalant person has at some point lost their poise at some point. As a customer-facing business, it is absolutely impossible to please everyone, all the time. It is healthy to want to delight every single customer, yes; but pragmatism dictates that we prep ourselves just as much for all those Grumpus Maximuses that you will, sooner or later, come across.
In order to treat this awkward situation in the most empathetic manner, we’ve divided the action plan into three stages:
1. The First-aid
2. The Treatment
3. The Follow-up
Before we get into the details of each stage, there are a few things we need to understand:
• Being objective about the situation at hand
It pays to remember that the customer is not actually miffed at you. Customer expectation is what could potentially lead to dissatisfaction. You are merely representing your brand when you interact with them, so make sure that you leave your personal prejudices and biases at home when dealing with customers.
• Sensitivity is of utmost value
Try and understand the reason behind the customer’s dissatisfaction, no matter how quirky or unreasonable you may think it is. Listen carefully and make sure they feel heard. Being sensitive to your customers’ needs will even help you be more proactive rather than reactive. This way with time you may even prevent a potentially dissatisfactory experience before it even occurs!
• Discuss with colleagues
This is something that is very often neglected. When you have a particularly demanding customer whom you managed to win back, make sure you treat that as a case study and discuss the details with your peers so that they are prepared for it when they encounter a similar situation in the future. Take suggestions from them in case you are confronted by a customer who seems impossible to please and follow up on the customer with the suggestion you find best.
This transparency educates you with all the possibilities and in no time you will realise that you have cultivated the knack of handling irate customers and exceeding customer expectations – And isn’t that the stepping stone to world-class customer experience!
Let’s now get back to understanding the three stages of the action plan when it comes to handling angry customers. Each of these stages are further divided into three:
The First Aid:
As the name suggests, this is the stage when the customers bring their injured expectations to you and as with all first aid, it is a make or break situation. It is best to jump right into rescue mode and do the following:
1. Listen: Hear them out completely and be gentle while getting into the details. Respect the thought in the customer that prompted them to bring their concerns to your notice and understand those concerns as thoroughly as you can.
2. Apologize: Don’t be too eager to apologize as that may come across as phoney. Once you have understood their woes, state the exact issue at hand and end it with an apology. This way, they feel heard as well as comforted by the apology.
3. Assure: Once you have expressed apology, make sure that their feedback has been taken into consideration and assure them that it will be looked into. If it is within your reach, make it happen right away. If you have to transfer it to another department or escalate it to the most appropriate person, do it diligently so the customers know that their woes are being addressed.
4. Build Trust: Once the initial interactions have been established, acknowledge the loophole or pain-point presented to you by the customer (as and where applicable). Psychology has repeatedly shown us that the moment you acknowledge someone’s fears, they instantly feel supported. Establish a circle of trust.
5. Offer a solution: If it is within your power, present them with a solution that might be in the best interest of both parties. This, of course, varies from brand to brand and industry to industry, but if a certain issue can be solved there are only so many ways to do it and lay out all possible solutions in front of the customers as let them tell you which one they prefer and why.
6. Take instant action: “Instant” is the word you want to chase. Instant gratification is the weakness (rather, vice) of our generation! Once you present your solutions, as far as possible, take action immediately so that the customer realizes that you meant your apology. Acta, non verba – always.
The Follow Up:
7. Take Feedback: Never underestimate the power of requesting for a feedback. You may have addressed the problem at hand, but you have to make sure that the customer feels encouraged to come back to you. Remember that customer retention is the motive and unless you get a green signal from customers that they have been delighted, you cannot rest. If they are still may-be-may-be-not about the resolution, then the next step is a deciding factor in winning them back.
8. Incentivize: Thank your customers for pointing out their concerns and make sure they are back to being happy customers again. In this attempt, incentivize the interaction in order to get them to visit your brand again and soon. Give them a discount coupon or access to a new range of products, or whatever you seem most applicable in that particular context but most importantly, make sure they come back – it shows that they owe you their loyalty!
9. Follow-up: When such a customer revisits your store, follow up with them closely. It is important to be graceful about this because there’s a very fine line between following up and breathing down one’s neck and the latter will, certainly, leave you with a notorious detractor! Find out about their latest experience with your brand without imposing a lot of questions. Ideally, if all the previous steps were successful, you should be left with a positive feedback and one happy customer! If not, reassess the situation and repeat.
Some of the best “awesome customer experience ” stories are those that went from being an almost horrible experience to being a case of ultimate delight. The detractor-promoter flip, although seemingly difficult, is extremely gratifying to both parties involved. The process of understanding your customers involves a lot of trial and error. Being sincere and proactive with the attempt is the only way forward.
If you have something to add to this or if you wish to share a certain story of an angry customer who later became a brand evangelist, do share it with us!
Also, we believe that every feedback makes for a great learning experience, so let us also know how you liked this post in the comments section.