Customer Service Recovery

Last night at 11 pm, I was standing in line at a gas station mini mart when I overheard the man up front complaining that the coffee wasn’t fresh. "I'm not paying for something brewed yesterday."

I felt for the poor guy behind the counter. What was he supposed to do?

Four Steps for Handling Upset Customers

Unfortunately, there's no way to eliminate the occasional frustrated or upset customer. In the retail world, they are just part of doing business. So, it's important to know how to handle them.

First, stay calm and don't take it personally. The customers see their situation as unique and justified, even if you might not. Getting angry is only going to escalate matters.

Second, just listen. Sometimes the person just needs to vent. It's possible the guy in the mini mart had just gone through a bad day and the less-than-fresh cup of coffee came at an ideal time to blow some steam.

The Small Business Authority says, "Listening patiently can defuse a situation, as long as the customer feels acknowledged in his or her complaint. Hear them out. When they are done talking, summarize what you’ve heard and ask any questions to further clarify their complaint. Body language can be critically important here. Keep eye contact. Stand or sit up straight. Keep your arms uncrossed.  Show how closely you’re paying attention to their problem."

Third, apologize. Apologizing also helps defuse the situation, because it lets the person know you care about their issue (even if it's just a perceived issue).

Lastly, find a solution. In the case of the coffee drinker, the customer provided the solution--he wanted his stale cup of joe free! And the nice guy behind the counter did just that. He smiled and said, "Sorry about that. We won’t have fresh until tomorrow morning. That cup is on the house."

Quick recap

In the educational video ‪The Right Words at the Right Time - Customer Service Recovery for Retail Employees they sum it up nicely. Even though the words and the situation may be different, there are three things retail needs to communication to frustrated customers:

• I care
• I understand
• You can trust me to take care of this.

Hopefully today you won’t be faced with any angry customers. But if one does show up, you’re ready.

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor--with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.