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BBB: Even irrational customers deserve chance to be heard

Sun., March 3, 2013

We’ve all had them – the crazy customer who won’t calm down no matter how much you listen, rationalize, cajole or empathize.

Most of our work at the BBB is respectful and pleasant. We are a neutral third party trying to help consumers and businesses avoid conflict. I guess we were due.

For the past month and a half we have been dealing with a very upset business over the posting of a complaint to his BBB Business Review. We have spent hours upon hours communicating with this business. We have exchanged voicemails, emails, and simply listened to phone rants. These calls often end with the shouting obscenities and threats, hanging up the phone mid scream, only to call back later that day to apologize for their behavior and start the cycle all over again.

These types of episodes can make you feel completely helpless.

A good business owner knows the basic skills of handling an irate customer. But what do you do when you can’t reason with them? Here are some tips we’ve collected from the experts and learned along the way during our 100-year journey of navigating business and consumer relationships.

Never respond in anger. In today’s digital world, there is the potential for everything you say and do to end up forever etched in the online memory banks of one or more websites, review sites and search engine results pages. There are many helpful resources to assist you in crafting a response to an upset customer.

Always listen first. Many times an upset customer just wants to be heard and understood. If you can sit back quietly and genuinely listen to them, you may hear the root of the problem is different than you thought. Take notes so that you clearly remember the message they give you.

Recite what you heard. Once they’ve had their chance to speak without interruption, repeat back to them what you heard. This will help show them that you are sincere and interested in their concerns and clarify what it is they are feeling and looking for in resolution.

For those customers who stay angry, don’t let them pull you with them. Keep a calm, steady speech. Focus on your breathing and remember that it is most likely not a personal attack. They are frustrated at the situation, not you.

Document everything. Don’t be pressured. You’ll have to find the balance between pleasing an upset customer and doing more than is necessary. Does your company have a policy that describes a range in which you are able to go to satisfy a customer? Are there hard black-and-white lines you have to stay within? For example, we pride ourselves on our unbiased treatment of all businesses. We can’t allow ourselves to make an exception for one business without jeopardizing our reputation of trust.

Seek legal council when needed. When all other methods have been exhausted, it may be smart for you to retain legal counsel. When you feel you’ve drained your resources and have nothing further to communicate with the customer and they simply refuse to give up, it might be best to refer them to your attorney along with the detailed notes you’ve kept throughout the interaction.

We hope you do not encounter confrontations so severe, but it’s best to be prepared. Have a plan of action in advance so you follow a consistent protocol. And reach out to us at any time for assistance. We’re here to help!

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