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What if the customer is wrong

I was recently sent an MP3 recording of a staff member dealing with a client where it looked like the customer was in the ‘wrong’. The customer was calling the managing agent for the block of flats she lived in. Some work had been done recently on the water mains and the water pressure had increased substantially. The customer was trying to establish if the leak in her flat had happened as a result of the increased water pressure.

The conversation started as a reasonable request for information. The customer was calm and reasonable at the outset and did state that the leak was probably her responsibility. However, the staff member set about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. She seemed to get alarmed at the customer making the connection between her water leak and the work carried out in the block. This possible connection was ruled out before the customer had even finished her first sentence. The staff member spoke loudly and rapidly, providing many reasons why the customer was making the wrong diagnosis. When the customer did try to get a word in she never got to finish her sentence. You can guess where this simple and mild customer query was going – and it did! This first telephone call ended with the customer stating that she would check out some of the suggestions mentioned by the staff member and call her back.

The second telephone call occurred 20 minutes later. The customer said she identified the leak and it was due to some bonding wearing away around her shower and not a pipe leak. One would have thought this kind customer deserved a reward for honesty or at least some kindness and consideration. Oh how wrong could you be? Sensing she was in the right, the staff member launched into overdrive, speaking rapidly, stating the obvious about how to repair the shower, butting in, talking over and not listening. The conversation took a turn for the worst when ‘out of the blue’ the customer mentioned that she did not like the attitude of the staff member. Not wanting or having the skill to listen and explore this comment the staff member got even more animated and now so did the customer. The customer eventually asked to speak with the supervisor on duty.

It’s very easy not to listen to customers when we feel we are in the right or the customer is ill informed. If a customer has taken time to come in or telephone they have something to say. All conversations benefit from a short period of time actually spent listening to the customer, particularly at the outset. We can all get very agitated if we are prevented from getting out what we want to say or if we get to say it but it’s obviously being ignored. This frustration often leads to poor behaviour and the subsequent misconception by the staff member that they are now dealing with another awkward customer.

I am sure that we all know that listening to a customer helps to calm them down so why do we see so little of it practiced? I suspect we forget this fact as our own need to be heard overrides the need to hear others.

This powerful need to be heard is within us all: just remember it is also within the customer… even if they are in the wrong!

Our Dealing with Difficult Customers training course is one of the many Conflict management training courses we provide to companies across the country. The course raises understanding of the background to conflict and the mindset of difficult customers. Participants learn how their own verbal and non-verbal communication styles tend to calm or escalate a situation. Participants also acquire key skills and confidence to pro-actively manage the negative behaviour of difficult customers.



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