When the Customer ISN’T Always Right

What to do when you’re faced with an angry customer or client

The phrase “The customer is always right” has been used as early as 1905. Quote Insider attributes the saying to the Chicago retailer Marshall Field, although it’s possible he heard it from someone else. The meaning of the phrase is that companies and their employees should treat complaints seriously to avoid customers feeling ignored or cheated.

However, for anyone who has worked in a customer or client facing job, or even just peeked at some of the angrier folks on social media, the customer is in fact NOT always right. Customers should be respected, but when their behavior starts to get out of hand, what can you do to deescalate the situation?

  1. Keep Calm and Carry On

When a client or customer starts yelling at you, whether in-person, on the phone or on social media, odds are you aren’t the one they’re truly angry with. It’s mostly likely your product or service they have a problem with. So, take a moment  to calm down, and avoid raising your voice. It’s also possible that the customer is unhappy with some other aspect in their life and is taking that displeasure out on you.

  1. Listen

Sometimes an angry customer just wants to be heard. So, if you genuinely listen to their problem, peppering in plenty of agreeing nods and demonstrate that you are truly understanding, the situation might diffuse after the customer has had an opportunity to speak their mind and realize they’ve been listened to.

  1. Don’t Say “I Understand”

It can be tempting to say you understand your customer’s problem. But an angry customer isn’t always in the most rational state of mind. Saying “I understand” is a perfect opportunity for a customer to say “no, you DON’T understand,” which is never a good turn in a tense situation.

Instead, pick up on the context clues the customer is giving you and use their own words in your response. If they’re returning a product for instance, and say it didn’t function as advertised, consider a response such as “Okay, so I see you’re saying that the product didn’t work quite like you thought it would, let’s see what I can do about that.” Instead of just saying you understand, show that you do through your word choice.

  1. Provide a Solution

If you can, offer some sort of solution to the conflict. A quick return on a product they weren’t happy with, or a discount on a future purchase could be great resolutions. Customers want to feel like their complaint was recognized, and an appropriate solution can validate that wish.

  1. Escalate the Situation to a Manager

If the situation really gets out of hand, and the customer just won’t listen to what you’re saying, it might be time to call in a manager. In fact, some angry customers won’t be satisfied until they speak with a manager regardless of what you say.

Customers aren’t always in the right. But when you take steps to diffuse the situation and make them feel like they are, you might find an outcome that’s beneficial to everyone.

Have you ever dealt with a difficult customer or client? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below!

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