Facing Unhappy Customers

By Patrick Meitin

Facing Unhappy Customers

Facing Unhappy Customers – One thing I’ve noticed during this ‘Rona mess is more and more people have become increasingly testy. Folks are more anxious in general, even if they haven’t been laid off from their jobs or inconvenienced in some other major way. A non-stop barrage of dire news has slowly worn on people. Toss in the pressing matter of looming bowhunting seasons and you may find many of your daily customers growing impatient or downright rude. 

When I started in outdoor retailing it came as a huge shock to discover how many customers wielded intentional rudeness like a badge of honor. Some of this was sparked by nothing more than asking if they required assistance. I also experienced customers cursing me personally about pricing (which I had no control over), insulting me (and the store) because I couldn’t produce the exact product they wanted, walk out because I wouldn’t give them a discount or toss in free merchandise to seal a deal, or exhibit shockingly nasty behavior when a purchased product failed in some way. 

I’m not sure why, but there are certainly those who view abusing service employees as sport. This came as a shock only because I was taught to treat everyone with absolute respect, my mother one of those who always believed incompetent or grumpy service employees were just having a bad day.   

If you’re going to work in retail, the faster you develop an empathetic attitude the better. Deal with the public long enough and you’re sure to encounter an angry, or even downright crazy, person.  

In our current outrage culture the natural reaction is to meet aggression with aggression, anger begetting anger. This obviously isn’t acceptable in a retail environment. Sure, some customers deserve no respect because they offer none, but think of other customers that may be exposed to your interaction. How you deal with angry customers reflects on you and your business. In the big picture, my interactions with irrational customers were as much about shielding other customers from negative experiences than calming an eye-bulging, vein-popping customer.  

After being promoted to a low-level management position I was immediately forced to deal with employees who chose to take such incidents personally, inflaming the situation. A customer might call their knowledge into question, disagree with their assessment of a certain product or outright call them a liar, and sparks would fly. 

“I don’t have to take this stuff!” they would cry. 

“Well, actually, you do,” I would remind them. “At least if you’d like to continue working here.”  

Facing Unhappy Customers – I mean, really, what do you care if someone questions your expertise? Is your ego so fragile you can’t entertain someone’s need to feel important or superior? How difficult is it, really, to just play along, even have some fun with it?  

This dynamic completely changes when faced with customers with fully righteous complaints. Perhaps an expensive piece of equipment has failed, or at least doesn’t live up to expectations in some major way. How well these scenarios end hinges in some small way on how logical, and patient, a customer is willing to be—but more importantly, how skilled you are in assuring a mad customer the problem will be dealt with directly. 

For instance, nothing set customers off faster than being informed an equipment failure isn’t your problem and to deal with the manufacturer directly. This may very well be the manufacturer’s policy, but you should still work to make things easy for the customer. You might, for instance, replace the item on the spot and become the one who is burdened with securing a replacement or refund. 

In other instances products fail because of something the customer has done outside of the product’s capabilities or through outright abuse. Of course the customer doesn’t want to take responsibility and assume the financial loss. The subconscious shame or guilt spills out in irrational anger or accusations. There’s also no way around the fact some people are simply narcissists. When you sense you’re being conned, allowing yourself to get pulled into the anger is all too easy.  

In the first instance, when something has failed through no fault of the customer, extreme empathy is vitally important. Apologize profusely and go above and beyond to remedy the situation with as little inconvenience as possible. This will help retain a valued customer. The con artists are more difficult to swallow. My typical approach was to offer a refund and send them on their way, hoping to work something out with the manufacturer to minimize the loss. 

Facing Unhappy Customers – We have all played the role of angry customer, whether sparked by a malfunctioning cell phone or a vehicle still acting up after an inconvenient trip to the auto mechanic. Did you wish to truly crush the representative you dealt with, or just vent a little to relieve frustration? Keep that in mind. Don’t take angry interactions personally, and do your best to show genuine concern. Mad customers, especially those with legitimate grievances, just want to vent a little and maybe receive some sympathy. The quicker you can calm and ultimately satisfy a disgruntled customer, the faster you can get back to business, and the more likely you are to retain that customer down the road.   

Learn more at Inside Archery’s website.

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