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10 Tips for Taming Upset Customers

By Jaimy Ford for America's Backbone Weekly

In the world of retail, you will undoubtedly face disgruntled customers. Their frustration could be a result of bad service, poor-quality merchandise or unreasonable policies—all issues that you can control. Or those customers could be upset because of issues that are completely out of your hands. Either way, if you want to encourage their repeat business, you need to treat unhappy customers with kid gloves. Follow this advice:

1. Be nice.

That may seem obvious, but stories of terrible customer service run rampant. You can guarantee that if one customer has a bad experience in your store, he or she will tell several other people about it either in person or worse, via social media. Small businesses are especially vulnerable to negative testimonials, so it is critical that you resolve customers' issues politely. Besides that, if you or your employees become rude or defensive with a customer, the situation could escalate and cause a scene in your store.

2. Focus on customers' words, not their delivery.

When customers become angry, don't take it personally. Instead, ignore their tone, body language and facial expressions and focus on their complaint. You will stay calmer and your customers are likely to mirror your behavior. That increases the likelihood of productive conversations and problem solving. Let customers vent and fully express their concerns before you say anything.

3. Take ownership of the problem.

This is an especially important lesson to teach your employees. Regardless of who caused the issue, when a customer comes to you for help, provide it. Don't look for people to blame and never utter the phrases, "My coworker messed up" or "That's not my job." Everyone should play a huge role in ensuring that customers leave the store happy – or at least satisfied – with how you resolved an issue.

4. Don't whine.

Avoid phrases like, "I'm having a terrible day," "We are having problems with our system" or "Several people called out leaving us short-staffed." Customers don't want to hear your complaints. Instead, they want to have a great shopping experience, and you can ensure that by focusing on how you can resolve their issues.

5. Acknowledge the person's feelings.

A good dose of empathy goes a long way, especially when customers feel wronged by your business. Saying, "I understand why you are frustrated," is often enough to calm customers down. Even if you feel the complaint is completely unwarranted, or you've heard it a million times, open your ears and listen to what every customer has to say.

6. Apologize if you are in the wrong.

If one of your employees' actions offended a customer, you ran out of stock on a big sale item or some other issue occurred that you could have prevented, apologize. Don't make excuses or beg for forgiveness. Simply say, "I apologize for this inconvenience/the way you were treated," and then focus on finding a solution.

7. Find a point you agree on.

When customers are upset, they want someone to validate their feelings. While in some cases the customer may be wrong, you can typically find some detail that you can agree on. For example, "I agree that we are a little short-staffed today." Don't dwell on the issue; immediately turn your attention to solving the problem.

8. Use the three-question method.

When a customer is becoming increasingly agitated, ask three close-ended questions—ones that limit a response to one or two words. That typically tempers customers' emotions and puts them in a more logical mindset. For example, "When you got home, you realized the dress was ripped, correct?" "When you came in to return it, a customer service rep told you that you could not return it because it was a clearance item, right?" "She also didn't offer you store credit, correct?" Once customers are calm, you can ask for more details if necessary.

9. Point out customers' mistakes tactfully.

In most cases, customers are just confused or mistaken. In rare cases, they are just trying to get something for nothing. Still, as much as you may want to scream "You're wrong!" correct them without actually uttering the phrase. Politely say, "I believe otherwise, so give me one second to check on that." Then explain the actual terms, policies and so on politely.

10. Don't condone abusive behavior.

If a customer threatens you or employees or begins to use abusive language, assertively say: "I want to resolve this issue, but your language/behavior is making me feel threatened. Please lower your voice/refrain from cursing or I will need you to leave the store." Spend some time planning a strategy for managing situations that have gotten out of your control.

Your small business needs repeat customers to remain competitive with all of the other retail stores in your area. More than that, you need store advocates who are willing to share their great experiences. Unhappy customers who receive exceptional customer service are likely to become both—returning to your store again and again while encouraging others to do so as well.

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Jaimy Ford is a professional business writer withnearly a decade's worth of experience developing newsletters, blogs, e-letters,training tools and webinars for business professionals. She contributes to bothThe Intuit Small Business Blog and She also serves as editor-in-chief of SalesMastery, a digital magazine writtenspecifically for sales professionals.

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