“I’m sorry” may be the two most powerful words in customer relations. They’re certainly applicable if you or your company messed up an order or have something else for which to apologize, but they also show empathy for the customer’s feelings regardless of who is to blame. Those two simple words go a long way toward removing the “me against you” attitude that pours gasoline on a smoldering customer’s fire.
If you really want to “wow” the customer, accept responsibility for the solution, even if you don’t deserve it for the problem. Fear that their problem is going to get short-shrift causes more customer stress than any other single factor. It’s no wonder, when we live in a society where way too many “customer hotlines” are answered by call-center operators on the other side of the world whose standard answer to a complaint is to file it. Anticipation that this is going to happen turns slightly unhappy customers into absolutely furious customers, so one of the most effective ways you can defuse an explosive situation is to immediately promise your personal attention to working something out. When the customer finds a real, live human being who says they will personally take care of the problem, they’ll feel a tremendous sense of relief. And, when you actually do solve the problem, they’ll become customers for life.
Speaking of stress, it helps to relieve yours if you remember that not every single difficult customer can be satisfied. Sometimes their frustration stems from circumstances beyond your control, the solution is something you can’t deliver, and they just can’t or won’t accept those facts. Or maybe he or she really is that one-in-a-thousand customer whose goal in life is to get the better of you in every deal. If that’s the case, just tell them “sorry” and let them go. You’ll probably lose a customer but you’ll gain a little peace and quiet.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.