Forums

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago with one of my sales rep and my responsible for after sales service.

It was about how to react in front of an angry customer.

The first one, the sales reps, argued that you can't do anything until the customer calms down. So his "technic" is to let him scream and "empty his bag" before saying anything. Then he would say something like : "I understand you are unhappy, etc ...". His point of view is : "the customer needs it, so lets give him this opportunity".

The second one, the aftersales guy, says he never let the customer go too far. He would stay calm, use a very low tone (so the angry guy can't hear him anymore if he continues to scream) and would give counter arguments. He does that because he had the experience that if you don't stop him, the other guy will always go "too far".

While I firstly thought the sales guy was right, I must admit that he is very much less respected by the customers that the aftersales guy. It seems that if you do not clearly show the customer there is a limit he cannot cross, it is very difficult to gain his respect back.
This sales guy very often gets the angry customers as if they have detected he was the right guy to call when you need to "pass your nerves" on someone! Of course I don't agree with that. This harms the company.

It happened to me twice to be insulted by a customer on the phone. Each time I did the same : I told them "I am sorry I cannot let you insult me or my company. I will cut the communication now and I will be at your office within x hours". Each time it was a success and both those customers rated our company as their best supplier in a recent study !

Can you share your experience?
Any advice on this topic? Any books or articles?
What is your attitude in front of an angry customer?

Thanks a lot.

Cédric.

jhack's picture

Cedric,

The salesperson has to sell - pushing back puts the sale at risk. The after-sale service person doesn't put the sale at risk by pushing back. So they may not be able to use the same strategy to similar effect.

I'm with you, though. No one has the right to verbally abuse another, even if the recipient has failed to perform. My experience is primarily post-sales, and the combination of listening, speaking softly, and moving the conversation from the past to "what are we going to do about the situation" usually does the trick.

When it doesn't, I make it clear that I won't tolerate the abuse: hang up, walk away, and (more recently part of my repertoire) feedback.

In my observations, accepting the abuse only leads to further abuse.

John

Gareth's picture

I always remember watching a UK programme called Airline where the airline staff seem to deal with abusive customers every day. They had the approach of allowing the customer to express their feelings until they become either aggressive or insulting. At this point the staff member would warn the customer that they would refuse to deal with them if they continue.

I have no experience in sales however unless otherwise told I would adopt this approach.

kklogic's picture

Cedric,
I was always taught the same as your first salesperson --- we call it "letting the customer get to the top of the mountain." Psychologically, if you interupt someone before they get it all out, they will start over. It's best to let them vent.

That said, I was also taught that if a customer or vendor is ABUSIVE (f-bombs, name-calling that is degrading), you are to calmly tell them that you cannot resolve their complaint as long as they are being abusive to you. After repeating the request a couple of times, you escalate it to, "sir/ma'am, if you continue to talk to me like this, I'm afraid I'm going to have to terminate this call. When you calm down, I would like to help. Please call back then."

cwatine's picture

Thanks for your answers.

It seems that you have the same patern as I thought : let the customer "empty his bag" with one limitation : not let him cross the line of insulting. And then try to solve his problem.

I am in a "repetitive business". We don't sell once, but all year long to the same customers. So we build progressively personal relations with our customers.

It seems that the sales rep we have been talking about has too often let the customers cross the line and in doing so, has lost respect.
I had some "proof" of that : at least two customers told our tech team they are using this sales rep to "put pressure on the organisation" when he wanted to have a technical problem solved more quickly (*).

His manager (the manager of sales) told him several time that he should not let the customers "walk on" him or on the Company like this. His opninion is "if you let them do so once, it is very difficult to get back to a normal situation. If you let a customer insult your company, you are making a professionnal mistake. Your role is to defend the company and not play a kind of "mediator role" you are PART of this company".
And, when the customer begins to talk about a technical problem, he immediately explain that they are not talking to the right person : "I'll get mister X to call you back immediately, you will see, he is an excellent tech and he will find a solution for you".

The sales guy then argue that if he does so, the customer would feel he is "hiding away".

Any ideas about this situation?
How can this sales guy get back the respect he has lost?
Do you think his manager is right?

(*) Our company is rated "extraordinary" by our customers on after sales service.

cwatine's picture

[quote="kklogic"]Cedric,
I was always taught the same as your first salesperson --- we call it "letting the customer get to the top of the mountain." Psychologically, if you interupt someone before they get it all out, they will start over. It's best to let them vent.

That said, I was also taught that if a customer or vendor is ABUSIVE (f-bombs, name-calling that is degrading), you are to calmly tell them that you cannot resolve their complaint as long as they are being abusive to you. After repeating the request a couple of times, you escalate it to, "sir/ma'am, if you continue to talk to me like this, I'm afraid I'm going to have to terminate this call. When you calm down, I would like to help. Please call back then."[/quote]

The question is to be able to rightly judge if they are still on the safe side of the mountain or if they are beginning to get abusive.

I think I would begin to counter argument and defend my company a little bit before it gets really abusive.

1) I would [b]accept and listen and understand[/b] : facts about the problem, criticism about the problem and/or the way it has been dealt by the company, perceptions from the customers, etc

2) I would [b]argue against [/b] (not accept) any generalisation about people and the company and try to make the customer come back to the specific problem. At the same time I would indicate that I understand why the customer is to angry (accept the fact he is angry), but not any generalisation about the company or its members.

3) I would immediately [b]cut the conversation out[/b] if the customer begins to be insulting and abusive against me the company or one member of it.

When I think about it, I wonder if my sales rep is too empathic with his customers and if he is still able to not forget he is more a part of the company than a friend of his customer !

bflynn's picture

Good information.

I would summarize this as remain professional. Never forget that your business is not a charity and neither is your customers (assuming you don't actually work for a Charity). Above all, respectful communications is required to build the trust necessary for business.

There are certainly tolerance levels to this.

Brian

US41's picture

When I'm in sales, I want to focus on what's effective. For a salesperson, that means I want the customer to give my company his money. What results in him giving us money and more money?

I'm not there to get his respect. I'm there to take his money and give him a product or service in exchange for it.

Weighing cost vs. benefit is always a good idea. Some customers cost more to service than they are worth. However, the impact on other customers you can have when you remove these troublesome "loss customers" can also be a powerful thing.

If the customer tries to physically harm me, I'll leave his presence.

If the customer raises his voice or says nasty things about our company, I'll let him get it out of his system and then APOLOGIZE on behalf of our company. I will then work to discover the customer's real issue and resolve it or inform the customer that it cannot be resolved so that he can make a decision to leave us and not feel manipulated.

You cannot control customer behavior. If you don't like angry customers and see them as opportunities, sales is the wrong field to be working in.

cwatine's picture

[quote]When I'm in sales, I want to focus on what's effective. For a salesperson, that means I want the customer to give my company his money. What results in him giving us money and more money?
I'm not there to get his respect. I'm there to take his money and give him a product or service in exchange for it. [/quote]

I would agree on that if we were machines dealing with machines. Respect and relationship play a huge role in sales and expecially in the long term. So if my final purpose is to make as much money I can with this customer, gaining his respect can be the right way to go.

[quote]Weighing cost vs. benefit is always a good idea. Some customers cost more to service than they are worth. However, the impact on other customers you can have when you remove these troublesome "loss customers" can also be a powerful thing.[/quote]

I agree 100%

[quote]If the customer raises his voice or says nasty things about our company, I'll let him get it out of his system and then APOLOGIZE on behalf of our company. [/quote]

It seems that for some people, letting the customer "get out of his system" without reacting immediately is not the way to go. It can be interpreted as a lack in confidence in your company and colleages.

[quote]You cannot control customer behavior. If you don't like angry customers and see them as opportunities, sales is the wrong field to be working in.[/quote]

Here I don't agree : you [b]can[/b] (and have to) influence customer behaviour. This behaviour is depending on his perception of your company and your role is to give him the best image of it.
Where I do agree is : the best opportunity to show you are good is when things go wrong and there is a problem to solve. So sales people should love situations where they have to sove a problem!

lincoln901's picture

This is a quote I wrote after hearing other employees complain about calls from angry customers.  I actually like those calls. I enjoy hearing the angry customers voice calm down and they say an appreciative thank you at the end on a call.

"Working with a disatisfied customer is your greatest opportunity for success in customer service"
Terry