BrainTrust Query: Dealing with Unhappy Holiday Customers

Dec 28, 2010
Doug Fleener

Commentary by Doug Fleener, President and Managing Partner, Dynamic Experiences

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary
of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of Dynamic Experiences

During the days surrounding Christmas, almost all of a store’s customers
will be delightful to work with. But, inevitably, one or two will be stressed
out, unhappy customers.

Here are seven things retailers should keep in
mind when they’ve decided to take it out on that staff:

1. Let the customer vent: My experience has taught me that that
once the unhappy customer starts talking, let him go. Don’t be defensive,
but listen actively. Make eye contact. Like a good fire, most of
the time these customers burn themselves out.

2. Don’t let them disrupt the store: A customer has the right to be
unhappy with something, but her unhappiness doesn’t give her permission to
ruin everyone else’s experience. If she’s talking very loudly or inappropriately,
retailers need to politely ask her to lower her voice. If necessary,
the retail associate can ask the customer to follow them to another part of
the store to continue the conversation.

3. After the customer comes up for air, establish the facts without judgment. "So
what you’re telling me is that you’re unhappy that you bought this last month
and it was your understanding it would never go on sale and now it is on sale?" Compare
that to "Nobody who works here is going to tell you that something would
never go on sale." Regarding refunds and exchanges during December, sometimes
it is smart business to just give in.

4. Express regret and a desire to find a resolution. "I’m sorry you’re
upset but let’s see what we can do." Saying "I’m sorry" doesn’t
mean anyone in the store was wrong. It just expresses sympathy and regret for
what happened.

5. Ask her what would be a fair resolution. More often than not the
customer’s suggestion will be something you’ll find more than acceptable. Most
of the time, the unhappy customers just wants to be heard. If the customer’s
resolution is acceptable, take it. If not, tell him what you can do for

6. Afterwards, thank the customer for providing the opportunity to resolve
the issue.
This one little step amazes customers. They so rarely hear
that comment that it is sure to turn the crabbiest customer into a raving

7. Most of all, don’t let it ruin the day. Don’t take it personally.
Live and let live. It’s great if a store managed to make the customer happy,
but there are people who will choose to stay upset no matter what is done.

Discussion Questions: What obvious and lesser-known tips do you have for
resolving customer complaints in the store? What other recommendations would
you add to the suggestions in the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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8 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Dealing with Unhappy Holiday Customers"

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Bob Phibbs
10 years 4 months ago

Excellent list Doug. #7 is the hardest when you are young. I know, I was a jerk if someone was a jerk to me, then I’d have to replay the event over and over. Finally you mature and decide most confrontation is just not worth it and move on by leaving the store if you must for a few minutes and releasing the negative energy. Your next customer doesn’t want to have to deal with your baggage from the first.

Marge Laney
10 years 4 months ago

As the old saying goes, “You can’t please everyone all of the time” but, I think as a retailer you should definitely try. It’s easy to love the customer who loves you back, but it’s rare to look at your faults in the face of an upset customer and do something about them. Right or wrong the customer feels mistreated and is letting you know about it.

The smart retailer takes the opportunity to be a hero, even if it costs them money. The good will and loyalty resulting from turning an unpleasant incident into a customer service win is significant and will in most cases generate additional sales both from the upset customer and those watching. The biggest obstacle is management’s reluctance to give their associates the power to do anything beyond the authorization to be outraged.

Ralph Jacobson
10 years 4 months ago

If it is humanly possible, GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT. The repercussions of a dissatisfied customer are typically far worse than just giving them what they wanted in the first place.

Steve Montgomery
10 years 4 months ago

I think the list is great. One item not on the list is to admit that it will take someone above your pay grade to resolve the issue. This involves several of the steps outlined above and then guiding the customer to someone with the authority to make the decision or alternatively getting that person to come to where the customer is. The clerk would then introduce the parties to each other, give a brief explanation of the issue, etc.

Doug Fleener
10 years 4 months ago

Bob’s comment reminds me of some the best advice I’ve heard in dealing with rude customers: “Don’t let another person’s character defect bring out your own.”

Ryan Mathews
10 years 4 months ago

Great list (in theory). In practice it can get brutal to be out there on the floor when somebody has an attack of the holiday crazies. I guess the only thing I could add to the list is to remember — this too shall pass.

Ed Dennis
Ed Dennis
10 years 4 months ago

Foremost, remember this is the customer. He/She is the reason the doors open in the morning. Now – stop what you were doing and/or thinking and look the customer in the eye and ask them what is wrong. Actually listen to them. Take action to resolve the problem immediately. If you are getting hassled because your store advertised an item at a low price and you are out of stock then offer the customer a substitute of equal quality or a rain-check.

The object here is not to make money, but to keep from creating a terrorist. Yes, a dissatisfied customer has the ability to damage your business in a multitude of ways. Potentially, they can do thousands of dollars worth of damage via word of mouth, blogs, rating websites, etc. Do you want to “roll the dice” or do you want to solve the problem?

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
10 years 4 months ago

Teach your staffers to remember that unhappy customers will tell an average of ten other people about their negative experience, so you they handle customers goes way beyond that one person. And a happy customer will tell about five other people about their positive experience with your company so they can build positive word of mouth.


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