[Updated on April 12, 2019]
“Thank you! I hope you have a great day ahead,” I say while smiling sweetly at the customer in front of me.
She grabs her purchases, huffs and walks away without saying a word.
My smile immediately fades into an eye roll as I go back to fold the pile of clothes she tossed around that are now lying in a disastrous heap of indecisiveness.
Customers. We’ve met all kinds. Some merely unpleasant (part of the job I guess?) and some seem to go the extra mile to make your life miserable.
I once heard someone tell me that the customer is always right. No matter how wrong we may think they are, the customer is always right.
But is this statement really true?
No doubt some customers know what they want and we are there to provide suggestions and to deliver.
However, what happens when a customer feels the need to act like a self-entitled jerk?
The customer is always right is a statement which produces a fine line of misconduct when the employee is expected to put up with everything from the customer.
So what is truly good customer service to you? And when does delivering what the customer wants tip over into being bullied by them?
Here are how some employers handle it.
What do you do when your customer gets upset and you discover that your employee was in fact in the wrong?
Joseph Tan, Leaderonomics faculty trainer
“As a first pass, it is always good to give the “benefit of doubt” as an initial approach. This can be done by trying to understand the intention of the employee. Usually the intention is good.
However, due to lack of experience, maturity or competency, it can come across with a different impact from the customer’s perspective.
Assuming the intention is acceptable, then the boss needs to do two things:
(1) Exercise grace in allowing the employee to learn from this mistake. However, if it is a grave mistake, then some degree of consequence will be necessary – extra work hours, performing additional tasks for the customer, etc. This is assuming that the employee is humble and willing to learn. If there is stubbornness, then that is another story.
(2) It is important not only to apologise to the client but practice restitution. Restitution is in the principle where you restore more than what is lost.
If the customer lost RM1,000 because of the mistake, compensate RM2,000. This will restore confidence.
Step in, manage expectation and solve the customer issue either through negotiation, free stuff or support.
Explain to the employee what went wrong, the corporate position, and long-term thinking.
Be the bigger person after that, allow the employee to learn and take note.
Renyi Chin, co-founder of myBurgerLab
In the case where the staff is reluctant to take fault, we would gently remove him from his station to allow some chill/reflection time.
We as managers should jump in and resolve the customer’s problem ASAP and apologise on behalf of our team.
We should then later talk to the staff and explain patiently why his/her actions resulted in an upset customer.
At the end of the day, if our actions resulted in a subpar experience for a customer, it is imperative we examine ourselves first. Re-education is a constant daily process.
King Quah, co-founder and group managing director of Saltycustoms
We are in the wrong. Admit it and fix it. There is nothing more annoying than people acting below the line and pushing blame.
If we are wrong, we must apologise and figure out the best solution for the client. It is important to remember at this stage not to do it out of your own convenience but for the benefit of the customer.
What I would do in these scenarios will be to review my training processes and see if we, as the management, actually created this problem by not informing our team members correctly.
Secondly, I’ll get the employee in charge to write a report on the situation, reflecting and learning from it.
Thirdly, I’ll get a superior/manager to make it right for the customer
Say sorry regardless of where the mistake came from. Secondly, ensure that we give feedback to the employee – but the overall ownership of the issue (and apology) is to be from me (as CEO) as it was an error from our team (not the individual).
On the flipside, what do you do when your customers are upset but your employees have done nothing wrong?
Our first job is to protect the employee because they are our important asset. Then again, customers do not get upset for no reason. So, here is why objective mediation need to come in.
Hopefully, there is a contract or agreement in place which can referee the situation. Having said that, the client’s emotions do need to be resolved as well. Again, a healthy dose of listening is necessary. Rather than ask – who is wrong? Find out what went wrong.
That should help to shed more light. Again, no one party in any conflict can claim complete guilt or complete innocence.
This is a usual case in e-commerce. The customer usually gets upset for many reasons. The tried and true
path is to engage (reply and be reachable), explain (provide information about the issue), try as best to solve the customer issue and, if it really is beyond reason, evaluate the brand/reputation damage and rely on policy.
Sometimes that’s the best get-out-of-jail free card. Even if it sets a bad precedent at times, it is better to help the customer solve his issue.
Ah, this happens sometimes. More than we like. Choose your customers wisely.
For us, we’re fortunate enough to be in a position to choose who we work with. We aim to provide a solution and create a value for the people that we do work for. Hence, it is important that we and our customers have that relationship and understanding.
If you are starting out as a young business, this would be harder to accomplish – but at the same time, you’ll have less to deal with so it balances itself out.
In other words: “the best way to get out of a sticky situation is not to get in it in the first place.”
I’ll back my employees up. Try to reason with the client and either find a common ground to settle or turn away the business.
For this scenario, we would usually address the customer’s issue and identify what the probable cause of upset is. Apply the solution and pacify the customers.
Once that is executed and the customer is in a better mood, find the chance to educate the customer on our company policy and SOP on why the original (staff) action upset him/her. At the same time, this is a good time to teach the staff on how to handle such a situation.
In the service industry, most of the time we have to take the blame first and apologise/appease the guests. It is easier to defuse the situation once they have calmed down. But it is imperative that we let customers know why they were in the ‘wrong’ so that it can be avoided in the future.
If the customer is upset, we apologise anyway and move on. The world is in a mess today is because no one wants to say sorry.
In this case, as there was no fault on our part, depending on my relationship with the customer, I will offer advice to them on how they can ‘improve’ and what are also steps we will take to ensure this situation will not happen again.
It’s really about fixing the process because, even if the mistake is from the customer, if you love people, you will work hard to fix the issue so that it never happens again, regardless of where it came from.
The only difference from question number one is that there is no feedback to the employee since the problem was from the other side.
In a nutshell
Both customers and employees are equally important to manage. One does not precede the other—and the customer is not very often always right.
While it is vital for us to go above and beyond to protect an employee’s well-being, it is just as imperative that we see the bigger picture and provide the benefit of the doubt to both parties.
Sometimes it is the process or system itself that may need a fix rather than the people.