As I was indulging in my usual after Christmas Sales browsing and yes I admit it some buying, I was amusing myself with one of my favourite occupations people watching, whilst standing in line.

It was about this time I thought to myself – I am so happy that I am not on customer service at this time of the year! There were long lines not only at the checkouts but at the returns/exchange counters. Tempers were fraying – people were demanding attention and in some cases courtesy was a forgotten word!

The response to this multitude of demands and personalities by the sales staff varied from patient competency to harried panic.

Difficult customers can be hard to manage at the best of times but at this time of year it takes practice, patience, knowledge and skill. Congratulations to all those patient staff and to those who were a tad harried and panicked here are some tips to help manage difficult customers and have a stress free after Christmas Sales. Or, at least as stress free as is possible when dealing with people and sales.

The most important point to remember at all times is: don’t take it personally. Listen for the facts not the emotion. Be objective and be aware that, in the main the customer is annoyed at the situation, not with you personally. Unless you have erred in which case acknowledge the error fix it and move on. If you can be objective and not let your emotions become engaged then you will find it easier to deal with an emotional customer.

You are only able to control your attitude, actions and your choices – you can not control the customers’ actions, choices or behaviour. Work on your actions and behaviour and you will find this will have positive influence on the customers’ behaviour. After all if you refuse to argue with the customer – and are patient, calm and objective it will take the wind out of their sails and they will start to respond logically and less emotionally. With the emotion gone you can get to the core of the problem and deal with it.

Utilise good communication skills – start with the basis of all communication = Listen. Listen to what the customer is saying beneath the emotion. Clarify any issues you are not sure of. In many cases just listening and acknowledging the issues will defuse most difficult customers. Validating a customer’s issues will often be enough.

If you are able to identify the issue and can fix it – do so. If it will require more investigation clearly outline to the customer what needs to be done, do it and get back to the customer.

Watch your body language – if you exhibit aggressive body language then the customer will respond to this rather than your words. Be receptive and relaxed using open wide gestures. Watch your facial expression – keep a smile on your face. Sneering, tutting, raising eyebrows, shrugging shoulders, looking away or looking bored is not conducive to fostering good relations with the customer.

So next time you are faced with the difficult customer remember some of these tips and look for the win-win solution. Move from harried panic to patient competency.

Have a great 2010 and wonderful, productive customer service.

Trish at Trischel

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