No one wants to deal with mistakes! But staying professional as you handle your customer (and yourself) can determine whether a mistake becomes a disaster, or is just a temporary set-back.
These six tips will help you turn a crisis into an opportunity and strengthen the relationship with your customer:
Tip 1: Stay Calm
When something goes wrong, don’t retreat from reality; step forward to handle your customer in a way that lets him or her know that you’re taking charge. Describe and discuss the situation objectively. Don’t try to hide the scope of what’s happened, but don’t make it sound like a catastrophe, either. Stay clear, calm, and objective when you’re discussing the problem.
To do this…
Tip 2: Manage Your Reaction First
It’s hard to handle your customer effectively if you’re battling guilt, overwhelm, panic, or self-doubt. So manage your own feelings first. Talk to a friend or trusted colleague, write down your thoughts, meditate, exercise, yell, throw things, do whatever you need to do to level your head and then talk to your customer.
Remember: Your customer doesn’t care how you feel. They just want to know what you’re going to do to make things right.
Tip 3: Accept Responsibility…
It’s OK to explain what went wrong (assuming that your customer wants to know). But don’t make excuses, blame others, or try to hide the facts. A colleague of mine rightly says, “Nothing complicates the situation more than if the client thinks you’re hiding something.”
It’s also fine to apologize for the delay, stress, or added cost or trouble (you can do that without taking blame for things); but once you’ve apologized, be sure to quickly move back into problem-solving mode.
Tip 4: …but Don’t Accept Abuse
Your customer may want to tell you how angry, upset, or disappointed they are — and in most cases, you can calm them down by listening closely and expressing sincere empathy (“Of course you’re frustrated. We are, too, and that’s why we’re going to fix this ASAP”).
Sometimes, though, it’s just not possible to handle your customer in a positive, productive way. If they’re screaming, cursing, or throwing around insults or threats, you’ll have to draw a clear, professional boundary.
- Before delivering bad news to an abusive customer, talk to your manager, mentor, and/or experienced colleagues about what it’s OK for you to say. It’s good to know where your company sits on the continuum between “the customer is always right” (no matter how wrong they’re acting) and “abusive customers can take their business someplace else.” Find out specifically, is it OK to say, “Mr. Customer, please stop yelling at me”? How about, “Ms. Customer, threats and swearing aren’t going to get this fixed any faster”?
- Practice your point of view. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to say, practice saying it — out loud, often, and preferably in front of others. This will make it easier to speak confidently if and when you need to draw a line.
- Enlist support. Invite someone with more experience or authority to join the call and help you handle your customer. Asking for support is not a sign of weakness. In this case, it shows mature judgment and forethought on your part.
- Prepare your exit. One of the phrases you should practice out loud is an (approved) exit line, such as “I’m going to hang up now. I’ll call you tomorrow to talk more about this.”
Tip 5: Be Impeccably Professional
Your customer is counting on your expertise to save the day; show them that their trust is not misplaced. So, as you’re working to fix the problem, also work to fix any damage to your team’s image by demonstrating leadership and seriousness:
- Give your customer brief, realistic updates.
- Continue to discuss things calmly.
- If there are further setbacks, acknowledge them and adjust your game plan.
And last but not least…
Tip 6: Keep Things in Perspective
Six months from now, this episode will either be a dim memory or a good lesson learned.
In either case, you will see it very differently then; so try to keep it in perspective now!