A 10 step guide for dealing with unhappy customers – KarryOn

Blame Gordon Selfridge. In 1909, the British department store owner coined the phrase, ‘the customer is always right’ to encourage staff to give customers fantastic service. But the idea that the customer is always right is, funnily enough, wrong.
To say that the customer is always right is about as reasonable as a request for an ocean view room in Alice Springs. No one is always right (just don’t tell this to my hubby — I’m on an unprecedented streak).
If the Karen* phenomena has taught us anything, it’s that the customer will use this saying to excuse rudeness, threats and impossible demands. So how do you deal with the Karens in your life?
When you have customers, you have complaints. Have procedures in place for dealing with unhappy customers before they arrive. That way when they do come (and they will) you have policy to fall back on and they may be more likely to accept the terms offered. And hopefully less likely to target you specifically as you are just following the company guidelines. 
I hate being placated. Especially if it sounds like I’m being read from ‘Step 1 of how to deal with unhappy customers’. You have a real live person with real life worries in front of you. Really listen to them. If they’re in front of you, make eye contact. If they’re on the phone, make reassuring sounds of acknowledgment. Make sure you clearly understand what they’re saying (but don’t do that thing that overseas call centre staff have been trained to do when they just repeat the problem).

An angry customer shares 98% of its DNA with a six year old child. They’re too big to pick up and remove from the situation, but don’t yet have the emotional intelligence to listen calmly to possible solutions. Calm yourself. Let them get the issue off their chest and then they might be in a place to listen to you. 

Just as your customer deserves respect, so do you. You do not deserve to be yelled at or attacked. If they speak rudely to you, remove yourself from the situation. Explain that you will not be able to solve their problem if you’re curled up in a corner of the office, rocking back and forth and eating your hair.

Solutions can be tricky, especially if you’re an intermediary. By breaking down the problem you can also break down the solution. Clearly identify the steps you will take with the relevant stakeholders and provide an expected timeline to the customer. This should also indicate to the customer how much work you will be doing to help them through the situation.
As much as world domination is my resolution for 2023, it’s not likely to happen overnight. An angry customer may make some rather unrealistic demands and not know they are unrealistic. But you can’t refund the money you do not hold. Nor can you remove the sand from beaches or the Spanish from Spain. 

Sometimes things escalate. Make sure you or a colleague keep a clear and accurate account of your dealings with a customer just in case. 

Before a customer comes in threatening to call the Ombudsmen, make sure you are aware of not only their rights but also yours. 

Touching base with your customer is a big thing. It can remind them of what lengths you went to to find them a solution. Sometimes this is a better selling point than if everything were to go right. Knowing how to handle a sticky situation is a great indication of the kind of travel agent you are. Checking back in with your customer can turn them from a one time user to a long time client.

Not all customers are created equal. They will not all be loyal or bring in a lot of profit. You have to allocate a reasonable amount of time to deal with a customer’s complaint. You are a valuable resource. Try and come to a solution quickly that will satisfy (perhaps not completely) both parties.
Sometimes breaking up is the answer. Ever been stuck in a bad relationship and when it’s finally over wonder what you’d been thinking? Sometimes client relationships are like that. The energy and resources spent dealing with a troublesome client may be better spent getting newer and better clients. Easily said. Hard to do.

*We apologise to all people named Karen who have been embroiled in this now global name-shaming. Collectively, let’s work on changing this. We should instead choose a rare name, one less gendered and unlikely to injure the innocent. Unfortunately, X Æ A-Xii is taken. Thanks Elon. 
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