I bet you’ve heard the following saying more times than you can count: “The customer is always right.” But the truth is, that’s a false statement. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably encountered a few situations where the customer was wrong. However, that doesn’t mean you can make whatever rules you like and the client is without recourse because the saying should actually be:
The customer is always valued.
If you begin with that premise, then even when an irate customer is making, what to you seem to be unreasonable, demands, you can begin negotiations from a place of respect. It can be tempting to get into a shouting match with a belligerent client who won’t listen to reason, but if you remember to always treat the customer as valuable, you can get through the dispute without raising your blood pressure too badly.
An extremely upset customer may not be as respectful in return as you’d like, but that doesn’t mean you should also be disrespectful. No matter what the situation, listen to the customer’s complaints – and I mean, really listen. Don’t just give them space to vent all the while having a standard speech set to spew from your lips when they finish. By actively listening, you can better understand what the situation might feel like for that customer. It will help you to ask the right questions to find out how best to ensure this person’s satisfaction.
For example, I once worked as office manager and assistant store manager of a one-hour photo shop. An angry customer came in complaining about the quality of the photos, demanding a refund and free rolls of film. The clerk called me to deal with the situation. After listening to the complaint, and perusing the pictures myself, I was perplexed. I had been in the store all week, and not only did I not recognize the man who had dropped off the film, I didn’t recognize the photos.
I turned one of the pictures over and discovered it wasn’t even the type of paper we used. I pointed this out to the customer and asked him if the photos could have been developed at one of our competitor’s stores – another one-hour photo shop was at the other end of the mall. I explained about the paper and how we were contracted to only use a particular brand and not the one these photos were printed on.
The sheepish customer realized his error, and I then gave him the option of returning to the competitor’s store or having us do them for him at a discounted rate. He chose to have the other store repair the error, but I gave him a discount coupon to use on his next roll of film, and he became a regular at our store.
Perhaps your irate customer isn’t quite as “in the wrong” as the client in the above example, but is insisting on a refund when you have an “exchange only” policy. Before you state that – which the customer probably knows already – remember why you put the “exchange only” policy in place. If this person’s problem falls outside of the reasons the policy was established, then perhaps it would be a good idea to refund this person his or her money.
In the long run, it may prove to be better for you. Even if they say they’ll never purchase from your establishment again, neither will they be likely to bad-mouth you to their friends. Just as positive word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool, negative word of mouth reports are bad for business. It is also likely they will remember how well you treated them and may return after all.
Whether a customer is asking for a discount on a non-discounted item, a refund on a non-refundable item, is one day late for a sale that inspired the purchase they wish to make, or is in want of extended coverage on an item no longer under warranty, take each person’s request on a case-by-case basis. While unchangeable policies may prevent you from giving every person the service they request, explain it politely and clearly.
If they are still dissatisfied, and there is nothing you can do to help, apologize and recommend another course of action that may satisfy them. If, in the end, you lose that person’s business, don’t take it personally. Even if it becomes necessary to refuse business to abusive or violent customers, maintain your dignity. You can’t please everyone, and by continuing to treat the customer as a valued client, you won’t have lost your self-respect, nor your reputation as a professional business person.
The customer is not always right, but the customer should always be treated with respect.
By Benjamin Waller