Let's face it. Shit happens. As much as I want every interaction with our customers to be perfect, every once in awhile, it doesn't work out that way. When problems occur, it's paramount that whoever is representing my company's side of the issue knows how to handle the situation so that my customer gets the help he needs, my employee gets the right solution in motion, and my company becomes a better company. Here are the things I teach to prepare every staff member to problem-solve with penchant.

1. Listen first, speak second. Conflict tends to scare people, and employees are no exception. As soon as they encounter an angry customer, their instinct is fight or flight. On the phone, that translates to either interrupting/talking over the customer, or going silent. Neither of these choices are good ones. Listening is. Listening means skipping past the rhetoric, the volume, and the potentially harsh words, in order to really hear the emotion, the issue, and the perception behind the issue. A customer who calls screaming that his box was missing a piece of jewelry is not really calling in this state because of the missing item--he is yelling because he feels something important to him is out of his control. The issue is not the item itself, but rather that our mistake has put him out of business until he receives the replacement or made him look bad to a customer to whom he promised the piece would be available today. His perception is that our error will cost him dearly and that we might not even care. Sending out the jewelry is an action we will take, but that is the least important thing we can do to make things right. We must repair the damage the problem has caused. To do that, the person fielding the call must discern the customer's situation by paying close attention to what the customers says and doesn't say.

2. Be specific. When a problem is brought up by a customer, there is always more than one way to solve it. The trick to resolving it successfully is to be specific every step of the way. A quick band-aid solution may end the call expeditiously, but it will not remove the sting of distrust the customer feels. Asking specific questions, offering detailed options, and then clearly explaining the way forward is the only way to close the wound once and for all. So for that customer who is missing an item, an employee at my company will ask him how and when he intended to use it, so she can get a better understanding of the ways she can fix his real problem. If it is going to put him out of business for a day, she may not just offer to overnight it, but also send him some free jewelry that will help him to recoup the income he has lost due to our mistake. If the awol piece was intended for a client who is going to be moving out of town, my employee might offer to send it directly to the end consumer with an apology from my company, so that my customer no longer feels he has lost face. As she offers these detailed options, she is letting her customer know that she truly understands his situation and isn't trying to make it go away, but wants to truly make it right.

3. Offer equal doses of confidence and compassion. An irate customer truly does not want the person taking his call to dissolve into an unsure mess, an unfeeling automaton, or a disgruntled correspondent. He wants someone to talk him down off the wire by feeling his angst, reassuring him that she will help him to get to a better place, and letting him know that his initial assault is already ancient history in her book. This can only happen if the employee responds from the moment the problem unfolds with confidence in her voice, reassurance in her questions, and conviction that her propositions for fixing the trouble will work. This can only happen if she cares that he is in distress, if she shares how affected he is by his problem, and if at the end of the call, the customer believes her. By meeting the problem head-on, she confirms that my company doesn't just want to make the problem disappear, but that we want to own our part in causing it, we intend to learn from it, and that we commit to doing better in the future. My sales rep answering the call about the missing pieces will not say "I apologize for the inconvenience. I'll send the items you're missing today." She will say, "That really sucks. I am so sorry we messed up like this. Let me get some specifics from you and we can decide the best way to get you what you need as quickly as possible." The customer understands right away that he is not about to be lied to, given the run around, or screwed over a second time, and he calms down much faster and is open to being helped because he knows the person helping him can be counted upon to do just that.

An outraged customer is more than disgruntled-- he is in distress. If my employee gets this and gets the solution right, my company gets a chance to be heroic instead of horrible.