Not All Customers are Jolly but Service Professionals SHOULD BE

The holiday season may bring out the best in humanity, but holiday shopping can also bring out the worst. We’ve all seen the “Black Friday Brawls” as shoppers play tug-of-war with the last doorbuster sale item and we’ve heard of “Cyber Grinches” who gobble up online deals for high-demand items only to resell them when scarcity drives up the price.

No matter your business, people can become – let’s call it – frayed this time of year. So, here are a few tips I’ve shared across the years to help people work through a service challenge or customer complaint. I hope you find value in them as you seek to make this a peaceful and profitable holiday season.

7 Tips for Managing Customer Complaints and Stress This Holiday Season

1. Listen more than you talk. Not only is this important in helping customers communicate their needs, but it also enables them to vent frustration and feel heard. Tis the season for listening without judgment, defense, or interruption.

2. Empathy wins. Listening helps with intellectual understanding and empathy helps connect with the human condition. In other words, listening tells you the what and empathy tells you the so what. It is your effort to understand why something matters or how something feels to a customer. Acknowledge the feeling, so you can help the customer engage in solutions that meet their needs.

3. Let them know you’re there to help. If an apology is in order, make it and move on. Often a simple “I’m sorry.” or “That shouldn’t have happened to you.” will suffice. Frequently, a statement like “Let’s see what I can do to help.” serves an important transition to resolution.

4. Co-create a solution. When taking corrective action as a parent, I would ask my children, “What do you think your punishment should be?” Similarly, as a service provider, I like to ask, “How would you like to see this resolved?” As you negotiate toward a mutually workable solution, focus on what is possible and avoid talking about what you can’t do. At this point, you should be saying things like, “Of the solutions you suggested, here’s what we’ll be able to do to make this right for you.”

5. Express gratitude for the opportunity to fix the situation. If you enjoy listening to customer complaints you’re in rare company. Even though complaint management is not a desired activity, it is an important one. We know that for every customer that complains, there are a myriad who leave our businesses quietly dissatisfied.

I’ve found that complaining customers come in two types: the chronically dissatisfied and the I wish I didn’t have to be saying this group. The chronically dissatisfied are experts in things that are dissatisfying. Their expertise can make your business better. The I wish I didn’t have to say this group is made up of people who wanted you to deliver a great experience but uncomfortably found the courage to tell you that you came up short. Their willingness to work through their discomfort should be appreciated. In both cases, their complaint is your gift this holiday. Unwrap it and use it for their good and the good of other customers.

6. Next customer up. It’s important to remember the next customer has no connection to the last one. The customer in front of you now deserves the very best of you. So, let go of the last encounter, take a breath, and start anew.

7. This too shall pass. When faced with the angry, tired, financially stressed, time-pressured throngs it’s easy to lose perspective on the temporal nature of a complaint. It’s also difficult to remember that complaints are not indictments on your character or worth. I encourage you to step back, activate your amuse system as opposed to a fight or flight response that compromises your immune system. Think about the things that really matter this time of year (and all year long). Hopefully, your thoughts will go to family, friends, spirituality, and gratitude.

I am certainly grateful to you for your readership this year. If you find value in these messages and have a moment to spare, I hope you’ll consider going to and on the Vote Here tab scroll down to Customer Service. Once there, I hope you will consider voting for me. Otherwise, the best to you, as you make the final push for the holidays.

Smoke over black background

Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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