Dealing with a Difficult Customer

The woman was obviously distraught and emotional as she raised her voice blaming the airline attendant for missing her flight. My daughter, Jeri, and I were waiting at our gate when this scene occurred. While I didn’t agree with how she was being so loud and verbal, my heart went out for this woman who obviously missed her connecting flight during the Thanksgiving holiday.

This unhappy customer situation is not isolated. Unfortunately, it has or will happen to each of us and it’s not fun dealing with a customer who isn’t happy. Here are five tips in dealing with a dissatisfied customer.

Fix it.

The mishap has already happened now it needs to be fixed. Instead of worrying about what happened, put your attention on correcting the situation for the customer. Don’t try to figure out how the mishap happened or whose fault it was. It’s done. Figure out the why and how later. Fix it now!

Money Won’t Fix Everything!

It is crucial to understand the true problem in order to come up with a satisfactory solution. Let’s use the airline story above as an example. Giving this lady a free flight wouldn’t have fixed the problem. Money wasn’t her issue. Missing the flight wasn’t even her problem. Missing her family was. Offering her a discount on her next flight just adds fuel to the client’s emotions because it disrespects her real problem. Giving her a free flight, after she gets to her destination would be a nice touch, but it’s not a problem solver.

Match Emotions.

I’ll never forget the first time I disappointed a client. She was mad. I was too. Someone else or something had let us both down. I joined her anger and expressed mine as I explained how I was going to fix “our” problem. She immediately calmed down. I think she figured there was no reason to be angry if I was going to take on that burden for her. In fact, strangely enough, my client started helping me by telling me it was okay, I didn’t have to go to the extreme of fixing the problem so quickly.

The Manager Card.

“I want to talk to your manager.” This bold request is usually made for only one reason; the customer doesn’t feel you care about their problem as much as they do. Therefore, in their mind, you won’t fix it good enough. In the airport example, the first question out of the attendant’s mouth should have been, “I can fix this for you, tell me where your destination is.” Why would I call the manager if it is obvious someone cares and is already fixing my problem?

Give Your Team Freedom to Solve Problems.

Giving your team freedom to fix things without your authority creates a culture of accountability and fulfillment. Believe it or not it feels good to fix problems and it makes the teammate look good in the client’s eyes. Why does “the boss” have to be called in to fix things? We all make mistakes so we should all be able to fix mistakes. By giving your team the freedom and responsibility to fix problems, you create a culture of accountability. Think about it, if you knew you were going to be responsible for dealing with client disappointments don’t you think you’d work harder to make sure they didn’t happen?

Extra Mom Lessons (if you care to continue reading)

As Jeri and I observed this mishap at our gate, she was curious as to how I would have handled this issue if I were the lady who just missed my flight. This was one of those small moments I blogged about last week.

“It’s a mishap,” I said. “It’s your current situation. So you deal with it and find a way to fix it. Working towards a solution helps me emotionally deal with disappoints or problems.” Then, because we believe in the power of prayer, we quietly prayed for the woman.

Who knows how it turned out but two lessons were formed in that small moment between a mother and daughter. First, seek God in the small things not just the big things and, second, pay attention to possible flight changes! Yes, while I was distracted by this woman’s predicament, the gate for our flight had changed. This woman’s mishap caused my attention to refocus towards our flight. Before we created our own mishap, Jeri and I gathered our bags and headed to the new gate, just in time to board!

Ha-ha, yes God is in the small things!

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