Have you ever taken a call from a customer disputing charges relating to the addition of refrigerant, yet they denied a leak check on the tech’s previous visit?

You know the argument: Why should they pay for refrigerant when it leaked out two days later and now they have no air conditioning, again? Of course, you review the documents — which were initialed and signed by the customer — that show the tech acknowledged the presence of a leak and that the only way to locate this was through a leak check. The tech did not recommend adding refrigerant to the system, knowing there was a leak, and that there was no way of knowing how long the charge would last without a leak check. The tech further emphasized there would not and could not be any warranty associated with adding refrigerant if the customer insisted the refrigerant be added, despite our clear warnings.

After the fact, on the call, the customer acknowledges your explanation as truth, yet implies that this is simply unfair and borders on criminal activity because it was 95°F that day and death was knocking at their door. They had no choice but to add the refrigerant without a leak check because the system is too old. They continue to justify their position, stating the leak check would not be worthwhile because it would be unwise to do any repairs given the age of the system.

Is your mind blown yet? So what do you do?


One tactic that seems to work well is to stop talking and let the silence build. In situations like this, usually the first one to talk loses. While this usually has good results, occasionally you sit there in deafening silence until the customer explodes and starts on a tirade of threats basically explaining how they’re going to blackmail you and tear you into shreds in the community and on social media if you don’t give in to their demands.

They go into great detail, reminding you of all the various methods they have at their disposal to attack your reputation. I have more than 30 years of experience dealing with difficult customer relation situations, and I’ve conditioned myself to remain calm, though this is a situation that has gotten the best of me, twice. Yes, while I invariably give in to their demands, I can think of two times when I ended a conversation like this by yelling harsh words before slamming the phone down in anger.

In both instances, after my face returned to its normal color and my blood pressure subsided, I awoke to the realization I’d just made a huge mistake. I satisfied the customer by giving them their money back, but I immediately created another even worse situation by satisfying my need to get some things off my chest. Now, they have my money and a legitimate complaint to share with the world.

As with other potentially complicated and difficult problems, I have found that the only way to deal with situations like this is to plan ahead. In this particular instance, I sat down with my management team and calmly discussed the fact that obviously I don’t do well when a customer threatens me with blackmail. After this happened to me a second time, I knew it was time to put something in place to prevent this from becoming my legacy.

We discussed what led to the conversation going south, what I was feeling at the time of the meltdown, and what response would have been better and more appropriate. Having been down this road quite a few times, this exercise allowed me to identify the early warning signs and start looking for a safe place to pull over and take a breath. It also gave our management team a chance to review and rethink exactly what our policies were on refunding money, performing warranty work, etc. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m assuming the majority of us possess human qualities like emotions. Lots of the things we deal with day in and day out are numbers and processes. We are putting prices together, ordering parts, and taking deliveries and scheduling tasks. I know it would be nice if all of our dealings throughout the day could be strictly business and everyone could remain calm and professional; however, we are all very aware that our coworkers and customers are human beings, and we need to deal with them on that level acknowledging that they have emotions, too. I often joke that if it weren’t for the employees and customers, this would be a pretty nice place to work.

But, the reality is, we spend a great deal of time at work; the people we deal with and the relationships that result are ultimately what keep us coming back every day. I know there are a few computer geeks out there who might disagree, but, to me, our relationships with others are paramount.

Publication date: 3/21/2016

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