How to Deal With Preemptively Unhappy Customers

May 31, 2012

You don’t have any control over the experiences a customer has before they enter your store. If they’re having a bad day or are distrustful of restorations shops because of a bad past experience, you have to work to overcome their unhappiness or misconceptions and make sure they leave satisfied.

Michael Hess, who recently covered this topic for MoneyWatch, calls these “preemptively unhappy customers.”

“The preemptively unhappy customer is typically so used to getting bad service that he assumes that’s what he’ll get from you,” Hess wrote. “Or maybe he’s just a little hot under the collar and gearing up for a fight without even waiting to see if there’s one coming. Whatever the reason, the customer’s very first note or call is usually phrased in such a way that it doesn’t even give the company an initial crack at helping him. The subtext-or even the literal message-is, ‘I know you won’t help me,’ rather than, ‘Will you help me?'”

Hess offered these four suggestions for turning those preemptively unhappy customers into satisfied ones.

1. Defuse. “Including some version of the phrase, ‘I hope you’ll give me the chance to try to help you’ (and meaning it), is extremely effective, as it immediately tells the customer he may have jumped to a premature conclusion,” Hess wrote. “It offers neither apologies nor promises and doesn’t guarantee that you can satisfy the customer (though any or all of those things should happen if/when appropriate). It simply says that you really want to try and encourages the customer to give your service ethic the benefit of the doubt.”

2. Never be defensive. “It doesn’t matter if he’s right or wrong, or what your policies may be-if your tone suggests anything other than a genuine desire to be of service, the customer’s natural reaction will be to think he was right to expect a hassle,” he wrote. “Again, your initial approach doesn’t have to promise any particular outcome-it simply has to make it clear that you want to try to help.”

3. Do something. “‘[C]an’t’ usually means ‘won’t,’ and I believe it is always possible to do something for a customer,” Hess wrote. “Ideally, it’s the exact resolution the customer wants, but it may not be. What’s important is that something is always better than nothing, and a preemptively unhappy customer is 100 percent likely to remain unhappy if you do nothing.”

4. Put a cherry on top. ‘Whenever possible, throw a happiness ‘knockout punch’-a gesture that puts an exclamation point on your now-proven desire to help,” he wrote. “That could be a little freebie, a future discount, a shipping or service upgrade, or something else the customer didn’t ask for or expect.”

To read the complete MoneyWatch article, click here.