Managing Conflicts with Customers

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” – William James

We know that customer service is perhaps one of the most challenging and stressful jobs, given that despite best efforts, conflicts with customers are inevitable. The good part is that we know this, which itself is an opportunity to manage the conflicts before they damage the relationships with the customers and the overall business. Without managing and resolving conflicts with customers, a company could seriously damage its reputation and lose customers in droves. Without customers – there is no business.

Customers are busy folk – they would much rather have a smooth sailing and comfortable relationship with a company and to that end could ignore some minor service lapses and inadequacies. This therefore means that customers would be happy to resolve the conflicts and companies must actively seek to do so as soon as a conflict arises. As part of customer service, dealing with angry, irritated and unhappy customers, is a given and yet it is neither easy nor do companies and their representatives ever get used to it. In order to lessen the opportunities of conflicts with customers, companies must proactively put together strategies to manage them. Many customer relationships can be saved and improved on by effectively managing conflicts with customers. Avoidance, of course, is the best strategy, but if conflicts do happen, then it would be prudent to resolve them in their initial stages such that they do not become reasons that end the relationship.  As with all business processes, managing conflicts with customers should be something that everyone in the company is equipped to do.

Many customers may not complain but could show their unhappiness through other means. If your company has put in effort to understand its customers, it would know when they are unhappy. This awareness is the first step towards resolving conflicts with customers and the company must immediately view the problem from the customer’s eyes. Such a mind-set would be required even if the conflict is not the fault of your company but because the customer made a mistake. The criticism and customer anger would seem unfair but the essence of customer service is to understand that the customer is upset and has been inconvenienced in some way. Your job would be focus on resolving the problem rather than laying blame. Therefore, in managing conflicts with customers, the first step would be to keep the customer at ease and look for ways to alleviate the situation – without pointing fingers.

An upset customer’s prime focus at the time of complaining would be vent their frustration and express their feelings. The job of the customer service representative would therefore be listen attentively and actively to whatever the customer says. This is possibly one of the best ways to ensure that conflicts with customers are kept at bay. An angry customer is a lot more difficult to deal with given that they would be unwilling to take any suggestions. By letting customers express their grievance you would be in a better position to create a partnership with them and once they have calmed down, they would be more amenable to the solutions offered by your company.

In the customer service role, the reasons for conflicts with customers would often be similar and ones that the representatives would have dealt with earlier. While this enables them to understand situations better, it also raises the desire to interrupt the customer and provide a solution instantly. Giving in to the temptation, would only serve to annoy the customer more – for the customer, the situation he or she is in, is unique and personal. By equating with another situation, the impression a customer gets is that the company is not interested in their problems and appear to be in a hurry to ‘get rid of them’. Be sure that such conflicts with customers would result in the customer leaving for good. Treat each customer with care and give each ones problems the attention they expect, irrespective of how many similar problems you may have solved in the past. It is extremely important to repeat your understanding of the customer’s problem – this lets them know that you have been listening and will help to subside any potential conflicts with them. The idea is to calm them and show them that your company empathizes with their problem and would do whatever it takes to resolve it.

Even an angry customer would be able to perceive care and genuine interest – by expressing empathy whole-heartedly you could easily manage any conflicts with customers and even prevent them from occurring in the future. It would be advisable not to use humour or appear condescending when interacting with angry customers – this attitude would most definitely escalate even minor conflicts with customers. It is a hard task to keep cool when a person before you is being unreasonable – the fact is that customers are not angry with the person they are speaking to but they are distressed due to other factors. By showing them that you care and are there to alleviate their problems, you could raise the chances of conflicts with customers.

Once a customer has received proper attention, they would be happy to listen to the solutions that the company would have to offer. If the customer does not seem to like the solutions, the wise thing would be to ask them what they expect – this makes customers feel more in control, raising their interest in resolving the issue. The whole premise of customer service is to have happy customers and keep conflicts with customers to the minimum.

Not all conflicts with customers get resolved easily and could take an ugly turn. Anyone working in customer service would tell you that highly irate customers could become extremely harsh and refuse to cooperate. No options, pleasantness, and resolutions work for such customers and the conversation would reach a dead-end. In such conflicts with customers, the best way to manage the situation would be to set the limits and end the interaction after letting the customer know that you are about to terminate the conversation. While it is imperative to find solutions, bearing harsh, abrasive, and abusive behaviour is not required. A company must rather proactively manage the expectations of the customers against its business needs and put together stringent steps to not only resolve but also avoid conflicts with customers.

The customer service representatives in particular and all company employees must be equipped with certain skills to deal with and conflicts with customers. A number of training and coaching programs are available that teach employees to manage complaints and conflicts with customers effectively and with the least amount of problems. In addition, ensure that everyone is coached on how to keep cool under stressful situations, managing anger and remaining in control of oneself and the situation.  Provide each employee with training for effective communication skills and the art of being assertive without sounding rude – these skills come in handy when dealing with highly charged and angry customers and within the work environment as well.

Dealing with tough customers and managing conflicts with customers are herculean tasks and without proper training and a systematic approach, you could be setting your company up for failure. By effectively managing conflicts with customers you would be able to build longer lasting relationships with them.

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