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How To Deal With Customer Disputes Without Losing Customers Or Giving Away The Store

By: Lisa Lake

Lisa Lake has created a list of top promotional methods on her Lisa also writes ad copy that sells for DrNunley's Reach her at or 801-328-9006.

When you are a customer, it is convenient to be dogmatic about the old "customer is always right" ideal. However, some customers take advantage of their power position, using their eternal status of "right" to take advantage of business owners and service providers.

Although most business owners say the customer is always right, they each have their own list of clauses to protect themselves-- as well they should. If a customer requires something unreasonable from you, you have the right to refuse them, even if your refusal sparks their antagonism.

It is much easier to deal with this type of customer in a big city environment. Amid the throng of people, you can console yourself with the knowledge that, if you do incite the wrath of a customer, you will probably never see them again.

When you operate a business or provide a service in a small town, dealing with unhappy customers is a much more delicate procedure. Especially when you have to sit two pews away from them in church the next day.

Business owners in rural communities are denied the option of washing their hands of antagonistic customers. Letting a customer leave angry and unsatisfied virtually guarantees gossip. And in a small town, bad news travels faster. It can sweep through the community in less than a week, wiping out your customers as effectively as the galloping consumption.

The key is to douse an unsatisfied customer's rage before it really starts to burn. Most customers won't enter the scene in a huff. When they become really unpleasant is when they don't get the kind of service and understanding they want.

Over the years, my friend Bill, a small town furniture store owner, has had to become an expert in the art of angry customer prevention.

One of the difficult situations Bill has to deal with often is the return of electronics that were sold to smokers. Many people buy things from Bill that, a month later, they decide they can't afford. The problem is that cigarette smoke reeks havoc on electronics after a short period of time. Not only does the smoke cause mechanical problems, but every time the TV is turned on, it exudes the smell of cigarette smoke.

Bill cannot simply eat the cost of these damaged electronics, like Kmart or Walmart have the freedom to do. He has to figure out some way to deal with the customer's unreasonable request without antagonizing him.

I am fascinated by Bill's ability to handle these situations. I asked him to describe in detail how he was able to defuse these potential explosions before impact. This is what he told me:
  1. 1. At the beginning of the interaction, listen. Don't talk. Interrupting the customer's monologue would be regarded as a lack of interest and respect.

  2. Don't come to any quick conclusions. Wait until you have the customer's entire story, so they feel you've heard them out in full.

  3. To prove you were listening closely, paraphrase the customer's statements.

  4. If the confrontation escalates and the customer becomes angry, try to concentrate on the customer's message instead of their anger. If you let the customer drive you to angry statements and outbursts, you will create a downward spiral that will never end well.

  5. Remember that your objective is to show the customer you want to help. Becoming angry or argumentative would only prove that your sole concern is yourself and your interests.

  6. If you come to an agreement indicating that the customer is wrong, try to avoid making the situation embarrassing for her.

  7. Above all, always, always, always apologize, even if you know you did nothing wrong.
Always do your best to avoid turning a minor disagreement into a major  argument. If the customer comes in angry, do what you can to make sure he leaves placated.

Unfortunately, there are some customers who don't deserve to be dealt with in the respectful manner described above:
  1. Any customer who attempts to influence you toward some illegal or unethical action. For instance, if a customer wanted a receipt in excess of what was paid, that customer is not worth your patience.

  2. Some customers are more trouble than they are worth. If you are forced to ignore a dozen customers because you are busy dealing with one difficult customer, you will have lost more than you gained.

  3. The worst kind of customers are those who revel in being unpleasant and rude. Some take the power of their position so far that verbal abuse seems perfectly acceptable to them. These customers should be asked never to return.

© 2001 Lisa Lake

Other Articles by Lisa Lake

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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