How to diffuse an angry customer

A friend of mine purchased a pair of shoes from a popular discount shoe store in our local area. Whenever she buys a pair of shoes, she never takes the shoe box home with her because she makes a mad rush to her closet and hides the purchases from her husband (he always complains she buys too many pairs of shoes).

The shoes were so uncomfortable; she had numerous blisters on her toes, so she went back to the store to return the shoes. The customer service representative would not honor her return, even though she had the receipt; he told her it was store policy “no box – no return.” Of course, she tried to explain her situation and even showed the customer service agent her blistered feet, but the representative insisted the customer did not follow the rules pertaining to returns. The customer got loud because she was frustrated; the service representative ignored her outburst, and so the customer walked out obviously never to return.

The unfortunate part of the above scenario is it sent the customer packing, and we all know that in today’s market and economy, merchants have to be flexible and literally bend over backwards to satisfy customers; thus the importance of good customer service.

How could this entire situation been avoided and the customer’s anger diffused?

If the customer came into the store, she still thought something could be done which meant she still thought of herself as a customer, and the customer service representative’s job is to keep her as a customer. Here are some suggestions that might have changed the outcome of this situation:

  • It is important to hear the person out and thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention. Let her know you will be researching the problem and you will get back to her. Do not offer a solution immediately since you do not really have a solution yet. (It would be time to research if exceptions have ever been made to allow returns under special circumstances when customer did not have the original packaging.)
  • Call back the customer because it is important to preserve the relationship and keep her as a customer. Thank her for giving you the opportunity to help her and apologize for her dissatisfaction, even if she is wrong. (In this case she didn’t keep the box in case she needed to return the shoes.)
  • Look at each complaint as special since each customer can amount to more business and be prepared to modify standardized procedures when exceptions present themselves as practical and realistic. (In this case, the proof of the blisters on the customer’s feet provided the real reason she wanted to return the shoes.)
  • Explain to the customer what can be done to rectify the situation. In this particular case, at checkout the clerk did tell the customer no returns with out the original box, but the customer service representative needed to  resist telling the customer she was wrong. Consumers do not want to be scolded; they want their problems solved.

When there is such keen competition out there, exceptional customer service is going to make a huge difference, especially in the small, local market.

photo credit: michale

3 Responses to “How to diffuse an angry customer”

  1. Jos said:

    Mar 14, 10 at 4:37 am

    only in US customer service reps actually thank people for bring a problem ‘to their attention’. In Europe nobody would take that seriously which would start you off on the wrong foot. It would send the message you’re doing what the company is telling you to do without giving it your own personal touch and empathy.

    Secondly, I am not that familiar with the shoe business, but (again – in Europe) I think you cannot ever return shoes if you’ve worn them. Blisters or not. Box or not…

    The above-and-beyond way complaints are sometimes handled may satisfy customers in the short term, but makes them adjust their expectations for the future upwards. In the end that leads to unrealistic expectations.

    In the example above, if the customer were allowed to return the shoes without the box, next time she would maybe return only one shoe, because the heel broke off and she threw one away already. If that were allowed, she might return next time with only the receipt and no shoes and still expect her money back. That may sound silly, but I’m afraid that is what this world is coming too.

  2. Micah Lauret said:

    Jul 30, 10 at 1:01 pm

    Great Comment Jos. I love Cheryl’s take on this situation and I hear Jos’ side so often. I can’t say that I agree with either side, but I do believe you need to do three things when diffusing an angry client: Identify, Resolve, & Learn. I’ve responded to your article here. Let me know your thoughts. RE: How to diffuse an angry customer

  3. RE: How to diffuse an angry customer | Research Bubble said:

    Aug 18, 10 at 6:47 pm

    […] I read a post on Service Untitled, How to diffuse an angry customer.  Cheryl talks about the poor service shown by a local shoe store and some great ideas to improve […]