I don't see it often, but I saw it the other day: a real sales professional. In this case, it was a young fellow named Ron, between 18 and 20 years old, working in a grocery store. As I stood at the customer service counter of my local grocery store waiting for my new discount buyer's card to be processed, a customer approached. I could see this person was angry. You know, red in the face, mumbling to himself, and slamming a loaf of bread down on the counter.

Immediately Ron acknowledged the customer with, "May I help you?" And the tyrant began.

The customer, who lived over 20 minutes away, had purchased the loaf of bread that he had already slammed on the counter the previous day. Upon opening it earlier in the morning for breakfast, he found it to be moldy and was demanding an explanation, and compensation for the bread and the time he spent returning to the store.

Then it happened.

Ron showed he was a sales professional. He immediately apologized and assured the customer that he, Ron, would take care of the problem personally. Ron then did not add fuel to the fire by asking the customer for his receipt. (Don't you just hate that when you return a defective item?)

Ron empathized with the customer by saying, "Sir, I understand, your time is valuable and this should not have happened." He then asked the customer if there were any other problems with the items he had purchased the previous day. He, again, reassured the customer that he, Ron, would take care of the customer's needs immediately.

He excused himself, turned, picked up the telephone, and called the store manager, explaining to the customer that he needed to get the store manager's permission and that it would take less than half a minute. After speaking briefly with the store manager, Ron turned back towards the customer and asked him if he would like a full refund and another loaf of bread or discount coupons in the amount of double the price of the bread to be used at a later date. The now-very-calm customer chose the refund and another loaf of bread.


In this example, Ron turned an angry, lost customer into a customer who left thanking him for his great service. This satisfied customer will surely return many, many times for the store to profit on, over and over again.

In the end, there are six steps to handling difficult customers.

1. Assure the customer. Assure them you will take care of their problems, needs, and wants. Say, "I am sorry you are having a problem. I assure you I will solve your problem (need, want, etc.)."

2. Ask questions. Ask: "Please tell me what your problem, (need, want, etc.) is."; "Please tell me all about your..."; "Please explain to me all we did..."

3. Empathize with the cus-tomer. Say, "I understand your frustration."; "I would feel the same way."

4. Encourage venting. In other words, listen to them. Let them vent. Encourage venting by asking more questions. Say, "Please tell me more about your concerns."; "Tell me more about the problem."

5. Reassure the customer. Reassure and reassure them more that you will solve their problems (needs, wants, etc.).

6. Propose an action plan. Offer a solution by giving them choices. After all, people want to feel they are in control. When you give them choices, they feel they are in control. If they do not like the choices you present them, give them more choices or ask them how they would like the problem solved.

Many times they will ask for less than you were willing to give.

Publication date: 03/06/2006