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How to Productively Problem Solve with Customers

Providing outstanding customer support isn’t always intuitive, but it’s an essential part of a successful service-based business, like contracting or building.

Just as learning your trade required training and practice, delivering a great customer experience means learning and regularly using effective strategies. That’s especially true when it comes to dissatisfied customers. Logic dissolves when emotions get heated, and straightforward techniques, such as maintaining a friendly demeanor, become more challenging. 

Whether a customer is angry because you made a mistake (it happens) or because of circumstances outside of your control, you’ll need to take responsibility for their satisfaction if you hope to retain their business. As soon as you notice signs that a customer is upset, be ready to employ the following strategies so you can save the relationship and protect your reputation. 

Establish the Right Mindset

First, recognize that your customer is upset and that the situation might get tense. As almost everyone has experienced, anger can lead to snap judgements and lapses in decision making. If you become angry in response to your customer’s anger, you may not be able to effectively problem solve.

You might be tempted to place blame for the situation, but you should neither take the customer’s frustration personally nor should you blame the customer for unfair criticism. Instead, establish a mindset of working toward a solution. It doesn’t matter who’s responsible for the problem; what matters is how you respond to the customer’s frustration. 

Use Active Listening and Reflective Responses

These two techniques can lead to more effective communication between individuals. An active listener shows curiosity for what the speaker is saying and attempts to take on the speaker’s perspective. Active listeners can also ask clarifying questions to make sure they understand the speaker’s problem. 

Responding reflectively means restating what you’ve heard to ensure you and the customer are on the same page. Rather than defending yourself, you should make sure the customer feels understood. You might say, “I hear that you’re feeling frustrated because the project did not meet your expectations, and you have every right to feel that way.” Focus on reflecting the customer’s emotions rather than just reiterating the problem.

Remain Calm

Remaining calm may be easier said than done, but it is absolutely critical to preventing escalation. To help yourself keep a cool head, remember this may very likely be a tense situation. Take a minute to prepare yourself before returning a call. During the conversation, you can help yourself stay calm by deeply breathing (anxious situations tend to lead to short, shallow breaths). This may not be something you do naturally, so it may be helpful to have a sticky note in front of you as a reminder. 

Apologize, and Mean it

An apology can help the customer feel listened to and can help to de-escalate the situation. Whether or not you believe you are at fault, you can apologize for the outcome of the issue and how it made the customer feel. This also can help you visualize the situation from their point of view. You might say, “I’m very sorry that you were disappointed with the results. Let’s see how we can work together to correct the issue.”

Collaboratively Work Toward a Solution

Once you’re on the same page with the customer, you can begin to collaboratively solve the problem. If you have a sense of what will make the customer happy, you can start by presenting a solution, and asking if it meets their needs. You might also simply ask the customer, “What can I do to resolve this issue for you?” Involving the customer in negotiating a solution will help them to feel you are being responsive to their situation.  

Follow Up and Apply the Customer’s Feedback

After you’ve remedied the problem, make sure to follow up with the customer to ensure they are satisfied. This is also the perfect time to ask for feedback on how you handled the issue. Thank the customer for bringing the issue to your attention and let them know you take their feedback seriously.

Lastly, take steps to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again with another customer. Constantly learning from your experiences will help you provide exceptional customer service, potentially reduce issues in the first place, and build your reputation in a positive way.

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