Magazine article Supervisory Management

Helping Employees Handle Difficult Customers

Magazine article Supervisory Management

Helping Employees Handle Difficult Customers

Article excerpt

Be prepared to do some pretty fancy juggling when an employee is taking heat from an upset customer. To be effective, you have to keep three fragile balls in the air: the customer's need for satisfaction, the employee's self-esteem, and the company's good image.

Unfortunately, if you let just one of the balls drop, the other two will burst like bubbles. If you put down an employee to appease a difficult customer, you'll earn only grudging and disdainful thanks from the person you are trying to satisfy. If you put a trouble-making customer in his or her place, your employees might enjoy a fleeting sense of vindication--accompanied in the long run by a nagging little voice saying, "I'll bet we could have won that customer over if we'd just ...."

If you dump on the company, blaming policy or upper management or another department, the customer will be disgusted, and both you and the employee will begin to wonder why you work there.

Tips for helping customers, employees, and the company to look good fall into two categories: first, those designed to minimize your need to get involved by preparing your employees to deal successfully with difficult customers; second, those that use a win-win approach when you must step in.

Minimizing Your Involvement

1. Set ground rules. Define the situations employees are expected to manage on their own and the conditions under which they should call you in immediately. Then leave them alone.

2. Train your employees in the skills they need to deal with difficult customers. Teach them how to use six magic words to defuse anger: I understand [that this is a problem]; I agree [that it needs to be solved]; I'm sorry [that this happened to you].

3. Empower your employees to make exceptions. Trust your employees to judge when a little special service like a refund contrary to policy will convert a disgruntled customer into a flag-waver for your company. …

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