Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to Argue with Your Customers

Arguing with a customer is a lose-lose. Even when you know your customer is wrong.

I can still remember taking the bait with an angry customer and yelling back. It was a hot day in the Texas summer when I worked for Otis Elevator. The hotel manager at a fancy hotel was mad. I drove down to his hotel to check out the problem myself.

This hotel had an old-fashioned elevator that required an operator. The car door was a collapsible gate that opened by hand like an accordion. Bellmen used this elevator to move luggage for hotel guests and the gate had been banged off the track and was hanging in the doorway. The elevator, of course, wouldn't run and this type of problem wasn't covered in the hotel's elevator maintenance contract.

The hotel manager proceeded to scream at me in the hotel lobby in front of staff and guests. Yelling at the top of his lungs! He claimed the gate "just jumped off the track and broke." I claimed one of the bellmen ran into it with his luggage cart. He claimed his bellmen didn't run into the gate. I grabbed a luggage cart and yelled back, showing him the dents at the bottom of the cart where it had run into the gate. Paint had even chipped off the gate onto the cart. He yelled LOUDER and got angrier!

I won the battle but lost the war. He called my boss as soon as I left.

Use these tips to jazz up your sales when arguing with a customer:

  • Apologize, no matter how much it makes you cringe. Apologizing is one of the fastest ways to diffuse anger. It will shave minutes off your argument and it doesn't mean you are admitting fault.
  • Control your voice. Resist the urge to yell back by intentionally talking in a softer voice than your customer.
  • Allow the customer to vent. Many times people communicate with high emotion because they don't feel understood. Try not to offer a response or solution until the customer has fully explained himself.
  • Don't make threats. Statements like, "If you do ______, then I'm going to do ______" will only make matters worse. Backing your customer into a corner is a short-term win for you.
  • Say what you can do. Once the customer has vented avoid rehashing what has been said and who is at fault. Instead, focus on what can be done to rectify the situation.
  • When in doubt, say nothing. You can't take back words. Even if you retract what you say, your customer will remember you said it. Err on the side of caution. Less is more.

By the way, thanks for letting ME vent! I still get mad when I think about that hotel manager.

1 comment:

Christine Cashen said...

Great post Zan! You have excellent ideas for dealing with all difficult people, not just customers. Thanks!