How to Negotiate with Upset Customers

When a client has a bad customer service experience, the news will reach twice as many ears as would praise for a good service experience. You probably already knew that intuitively, but that doesn’t make it any less of a pain. Interacting with happy customers helps us love our jobs; but even the thought of interacting with unhappy customers—all that discomfort and effort—can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

But here’s a positive statistic: according to a 2011 American Express survey, 7 in 10 Americans are willing to spend more with a company they believe provides excellent customer service.” If you spend the time and energy to turn negative customer service experiences into positive ones, and to prevent negative experiences in the first place, you’ll gain loyal customers who will end up being worth as much as 10 times their first purchase. Here are seven essential steps to create positive service experiences that your customers will return again and again for.


Step 1: Start with the right attitude; be firm but kind.

When facing the discomfort of an angry customer, it can be tempting to give in to whatever they’re asking—anything to stop them yelling at you! But don’t compromise what you know is the right thing.

“Get comfortable with saying no when that’s the right answer,” says Myra Golden, a customer service trainer. She suggests saying something like this when a customer has you feeling trapped: “We see this differently, and I am going to have to put more thought to the perspective you have shared with me. It’s helpful for me to understand how you see things. In the meantime, here is what I can do to solve the immediate problem.”

The important thing is to build the esteem of your employees while also maintaining revenue and keeping customers.


Step 2: Let the client vent.

All customers want to be heard—for some of them, that’s all they want. It’s not fun for customer service representatives to hear, but sometimes venting frustrations and blowing off steam is exactly what clients need to have the frame of mind to come to a resolution.


Step 3: What’s in a name? A lot.

When addressing upset clients, use their names. Don’t overdo it (you don’t want to sound like you’re trying too hard), but for both you and the customer, names will elevate the conversation from a business interaction to a conversation between two real people.

“Once you use a name, you’re suddenly speaking with a real person; a client who has a job and a life and a legitimate reason behind his or her frustration, rather than a faceless ‘ma’am,’” says Avery Augustine, manager at a tech company. This will help you be kinder and help the client feel better cared for.


Step 4: Speak slowly and don’t raise your voice.

Your mood has a huge influence on how customer service interactions will go. If the customer is livid, stay collected. If the customer is being loud, speak quietly but firmly (see Step 1).

When you stay calm amid the storm of emotions, you show the customer that the problem isn’t as enormous as he might have thought. He can calm down knowing that his problem is now in good hands.


Step 5: As the conversation continues, show empathy.

We’ve all heard that communication is only 7 percent what we say, and in our experience, that’s true! That’s why it’s crucial that when an upset customer is talking, you let her know you understand by using nonverbal cues.

“A salesperson can demonstrate empathy through eye contact, body language and smaller verbal cues showing engagement and concern,” says Sherrie Campbell, a psychologist in Yorba Linda, California. “Repeat back what’s being said so the customer can feel that she’s being understood.”


Step 6: Last but certainly not least. . .

If the customer has multiple complaints, start with the issues that are easiest to fix and end with the hardest. There are two reasons to do this:

“First, resolving relatively easy issues creates momentum. Suppose you’re working with a customer who’s bound and determined to skin you alive when it comes to the main event. By starting with lesser contests and finding inventive solutions, you may get the customer to see the value of exploring new approaches,” says Thomas C. Keiser of the Harvard Business Review. “Second, discussing easier issues may uncover additional variables. These will be helpful when you finally get down to the heart of the negotiation.”


Step 7: Agree to disagree (but make the customer think you’re agreeing to agree)

When you come to the end of the conversation, your stellar listening skills should be telling you whether the customer is satisfied or not. If nothing you’re saying is working, surrender! Come to an agreement that will best satisfy the customer—even if you are 1,000 percent sure you’re right and she’s wrong.

“It’s a natural behavioral mechanism that when a person is allowed to win that she will start to be more open to what she was fighting against,” says Campbell. “This strategy helps makes [sic] difficult customers more open to negotiating because now they feel like the negotiation will be on their terms as they are more in sync with the sales professional’s position.”

When you resolve a complaint in the customer’s favor, they will return to you for business 70% of the time. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to serve your customers with patience and empathy. By following these seven steps, you can create positive customer service experiences that will not only grow your business but also make you a more patient and empathetic person.