Solving a client’s problem through gestures
By Thomas Kagera

In an everyday business environment, a service provider comes across and has to deal with unsatisfied, problem, challenging, angry, unhappy and difficult clients. The intuitive leaps of imagination in problem solving, will largely define the company’s internal culture as well as its desired external image.

It does not matter whether the customer is right or wrong, when he/she presents a problem, a complaint, a concern or a worry, it has to be handled with utmost professionalism and calm. This therefore calls for the frontline service providers to be equipped with both the technical knowledge and organizational/people skills, because how well you deal with the situation will determine whether they remain your customers or you lose them completely. Besides, many disgruntled customers will spread the word about the bad service they receive and then take their business to a competitor, resulting in loss of market share and, ultimately, profits.

In the first instance, when a customer presents his/her issue/problem, adjust your mindset and put yourself in a neutral ground/state without feeling that: the situation is not your fault, the customer is giving an unfair criticism or that the customer has made a mistake. What matters is for you to realize that; the customer is unhappy, it’s your responsibility to solve his problem by focusing on the situation to retain him for future business. It’s therefore important not to take the client’s actions personal, hatefully or with fear. Instead, empathize, accept the problem and do not move to control the client’s behavior.

Listen actively to the customer’s complaints. He wants to be heard. Start the conversation with a neutral mind and statements. Listen to his complete story, do not interrupt and resist the temptation of offering a pre-determined solution. Active listening involves eye contact—which is linked with likeability and believability, kinesthetics (body movements/language)—a nod, facial expression of concern or a smile—keep it open and inviting. Look at the customer directly, put aside distracting thoughts, don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal, avoid being distracted by environmental factors—for example side conversations and “listen” to the speaker’s body language.

When the customer is done with the statements, rephrase and ensure you heard everything rightly so that you are certain of addressing the right problem. Our personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs can distort what we hear. Your response is very important. Use calm objective wording; “As I understand it, you are, quite rightly, upset because we didn’t serve you breakfast an hour ago…” This shows you were listening, understand the problem and capable of handling. 

Accept responsibility: don’t pass the buck. You are not saying that it is your fault. You are apologising and dealing with the complaint on behalf of the firm.

It is important to show empathy and apologize. Show him you understand why he’s upset and your body language and voice tone will communicate this understanding. “I understand why you are upset. I would be too. I am very sorry we could not get you breakfast on time…” Even the most irate customer will calm down when dealing with someone who explicitly understands and trying to help.

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In the process of dealing with the client’s situation, remain calm instead of telling the client to calm down. A customer who is raising his voice may cause you to react in the same manner and tone. Take the opposite stance. Be polite and provide assurance (that you are willing to help; that the problem will not recur). This is not time to argue: if the client is upsetting you and making you angry, and you can’t avoid being dragged into an argument, involve someone else. Quite often, bringing in another person will defuse the situation.

Using a positive language will draw the client closer. It doesn’t profit saying; “I can’t find out right away what happened about your breakfast…” when you can simply state; “Let me find out what happened and get back to you in a minute.” Tell the client what you are doing: if the process is taking longer than you thought, go back and reassure the customer. Explain what is happening.

Then when it is time to offer a solution, provide the best. If you have the solution right away, discuss it with him. If you do not, reassure him that you, as a company, are going to handle in the best way possible. If he rejects your solution, it is as well possible that you ask the client what he wants. There are times when it is important to engage him in identifying the solution. If you need to get someone else involved, such as a supervisor, let the customer know. As you get the solution(s), avoid passing blame to client or another employee, to the customer, you are the company.

Once you have agreed on the solution, take action and follow up. Explain every step you are going to take to fix the problem. Make sure the customer knows the process from beginning to end. Provide the customer with a time frame as to when the problem will be resolved. Whenever a deadline cannot be met, give the customer a call to let them know there has been a delay. You can then give the customer a new date for resolution of their problem.

Thank the customer for allowing you to make things right and show that you value the customer all through the process. Give him your calling card and possibly a discount on his next purchase. After a few days, call him to find out if the solution you generated together has worked for him or if there’s some other ways you can help.
Now that the client is off the premises, how do you ensure that such a complaint never happens again? Fix what needs to be fixed and use feedback. Analyse the situation(s), establish what went wrong, what needs to be reviewed, what your other customers say, and, most importantly, what the employees say and how you can work with them to bar such situations from recurring. Do they have the knowledge and technical skills? Are their private lives and frustrations creeping into the office work?

Be proactive and use the challenge to generate ideas, solutions and policy. The complaints, once well handled have an effect of promoting better interactive styles/relations and will tap into resources seldom used with ordinary clients. As we meet and solve these clients’ problems we develop exceptional levels of tolerance, empathy and courage. Mastery, confidence and self reliance, intuition and appropriate judgment are some of the other traits developed.

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