We have all had difficult customers. It´s bad enough in a business where the customer just quits doing business with you, but it´s even worse when you´re managing an account too important to lose and your opposite number is that person.
How can you train your employees to handle a difficult customer?
Years ago I worked in a jewelry store and had a customer come in who accused our manager of selling her an aquamarine ring that did not have a gold mount. She complained that the ring had "turned"?? as she put it, and showed him where the ring mount had discolored. He told me later he noticed that these spots were indicative of a spray pattern and that further, the stone itself had some sort of gunk underneath it. He also verified that the mount was stamped "14kt"??. Rings of 14 karat do not "turn"?? by themselves.
The jeweler we used for repairs was housed in the same mall as my store. My manager borrowed the ring from the customer, walked down to see him and they both agreed that the discoloration was caused by stains from an external source, not from the metal. He quickly cleaned the stone and polished the mount. They both looked brand new.
The manager returned to the store and asked the customer if she washed dishes while wearing the ring. She said she did. That explained the gunk under the stone. He asked her if she wore her jewelry when she sprayed perfume. She replied that she did that as well. He explained that the perfume was causing the discoloration of the mount. She was incredulous because she had been convinced we had sold her a piece of, well; let´s call it "junk."?? In fact, the fault, dear Brutus, lay with her. My manager explained that she should remove her jewelry when she was washing dishes (especially important with semi-porous stones like opals) and when applying perfume. While I won´t say she left the store "happy"?? she was mollified and we did not have to give her a refund or credit.
Here are the lessons I learned
1. "Listen with the intent to understand, not to argue."?? My manager remained courteous, even friendly, and professional. He came out from behind the counter subconsciously demonstrating that he was not trying to hide. The biggest mistake most inexperienced sales people make is that they try to argue with the customer.
2. He gathered the facts, and then took them to someone even more knowledgeable, our jeweler. The jeweler agreed with the manager and probably was the one who suggested perfume as one of the causes.
3. My manager had him clean the ring, returning it to its original splendor. Fortunately, this only took less than five minutes. Remember, the complaint was really that the ring was damaged and the customer wanted it fixed.
4. He returned to the customer with the now cleaned ring and explained politely, but firmly what we believed to be the causes of the problem and suggested how she could avoid it in the future.
I wouldn´t say the customer left "happy"??; she was still upset. But I´ll bet that the next day she realized that she had been the source of the problem, and further probably learned an important lesson in removing jewelry before exposing it to dish water and perfume.
We never came to the point of her insisting on getting her money back.
We were trained to provide instructions on how to protect jewelry and watches when they were sold to customers. I don´t know if this had been done when the aquamarine had been sold or not. But my boss related his story to the staff who didn´t witness the incident and reminded everyone how important it was. Providing "care and feeding"?? instructions during a sale can prevent a situation like this from occurring. If, that is, the customer listens and remembers what you tell her.
BTW, check out this Sept. 22 post at T.I.P.S. on superlative customer service
Ninety percent of all management problems are caused by miscommunication.