Dealing with Complainers — At a bank

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Susan Knezovich trains the employees of First National Bank of the Rockies on how to handle irate customers.  Good advice!

When working with an irate customer, use a non-directive approach.  This approach does not give the person the feeling of being “conned.” It helps relieve customer tension and is most effective in building better customer relationships.  It takes more skill and thought in using this approach, but the benefits justify the effort.

¨ Listen, listen some more and keep listening: Interrupting with denials or possible justifications before the customer has had his or her complete say will only make that person more angry.  At appropriate moments, however, do ask questions that will help clarify the situation

¨ Empathize: The customer really feels he or she is in a terrible situation.  Recognize this.  Once the customer knows they are talking to an empathetic human being who understands their problems and really wants to help, the way is cleared for rational conversation.  A good early response would be: “I understand exactly why you are upset.”

¨ Don’t take things personally: Remain calm.  One unnerved employee mixed with one irate customer leads only to greater chaos.  Remember, the customer is yelling at you, but the real target is the company as a whole, and at the situation in which they have been placed.

¨ Get the facts from all sides: If feasible, go on a fact-finding mission.  Make it clear to the customer that you will do everything possible to solve the problem.  Talk to everyone involved and investigate all sides of the story.  Find out what is really happening.  Ascertain the true status of the job.

¨ If the facts warrant it, apologize: One sincere apology placates customers’ more than 20 lame excuses.  It is best not to put the blame on any one individual.  Say we made a mistake, and we intend to make it right.

¨ Let the customer know what you can do: you cannot promise the impossible.  A possible consultation with others may be needed, especially with your supervisor.  Find out what they are able to do.  Try to put them in a frame of mind to do their best.

¨ Learn whether that will satisfy the customer: There is not point in having other employees go to great effort, and even incur expenses, only to learn that what was done still did not satisfy the customer.

¨ If not, find out what will satisfy the customer: Ask questions, such as: “What would you like me to do?”, “How would you settle this if you were me?” and “What will make you completely happy?” At this point, you may have to speak to your supervisor to get a more favorable solution for the customer.

¨ Agree upon a solution: Naturally, if you cannot reach an agreement, you will probably have to bow out gracefully and turn the problem over to somebody else.  If there is agreement, restate it, and make sure it is clearly understood.  A letter of confirmation is also a good idea.

¨ Ensure follow-through: If, after all of that back-and-forth there is no follow-through, you have blown it.  You should keep a close watch over events, and either you or your supervisor should call the customer with progress reports.

Remember the best way to deal with irate customers is to avoid giving them a reason to become angry in the first place.    A well kept log shows the kinds of mistakes that keep happening.  All employees of the bank should work together to eliminate poor procedures that lead to customer dissatisfaction.  Then new methods need to be implemented, applied consistently and improved upon.

Remember that the customer may have been upset before he reached the bank.  The balloon may burst at your window, but he sees you as a non person, a conduit for his business.

Susan Knezovich, Corporate Trainer, First National Bank of the Rockies