By Brecken Branstrator
New York—The holiday season is on its way, and within the next week or two many consumers will begin their shopping.

The pressures of the season and finding the right gifts in time can create stress for shoppers as well as confrontations with retailers and shop owners when things don’t go their way.

To help, retail training expert Kate Peterson of Performance Concepts; Peter Smith, author, National Jeweler columnist, public speaker and president of Vibhor; Brianna Chiarello, co-founder of Brian & Nick Private Jewelers; and Jonathan Mervis, managing partner at Mervis Diamond Importers, shared some tips with National Jeweler to help sales staff and managers deal with disgruntled customers. 

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Don’t get defensive.

Peterson said meeting an unhappy customer with a defensive attitude—even if you think you’re hiding it—means you’ve become part of the problem, not the solution.

2. Never say no.

If they hear it, the customer is likely to stop listening immediately.

Always offer options, Peterson said, no matter what the customer asks. Give the customer several examples of what the store can do, rather than telling she or he what it can’t do.

3. Be attentive.

Peterson said when there is a disconnect between staff and customer, the latter tends to be more upset about lack of concern (whether perceived or actual) than what actually happened.

Respond to help resolve the issue and re-engage the customer by understanding and recognizing what’s important to her or him. Validate and respect the customer and her or his needs.

4. Be empathetic.

Show that you believe the customer’s concern to be legitimate and that you would feel the same way.

While it can be a slippery slope, Mervis said the No. 1 thing to do when dealing with disgruntled customers is be on their side. Don’t be antagonistic. Instead, try to find common ground that you agree with and, from there, find a resolution.

5. Be as transparent as possible.

Chiarello said over the years, she has found that being open about the issues helps ease the situation.

When you’re being transparent, do everything in your power to resolve the issues and communicate that; customers appreciate honesty, even if it’s not positive news, and it will help retain clients and build trusting relationships.

If something isn’t going right on the business’ end, let the customer know immediately so she or he is aware and not taken by surprise.

6. Turn them into your biggest fans.

There are no businesses that don’t have to contend with disgruntled customers from time to time.

How you view these interactions, Smith said, can greatly affect the outcome. If you adopt the right mindset and embrace the opportunity to interact with them, once-upset customers can become great advocates for the business.

7. Learn from it.

Smith shared this quote from Bill Gates: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

Through dissatisfied customers, business owners can learn where there might be blind spots, unintended consequences or bad execution and improve from there.

8. Own it.

The last thing an agitated customer wants to hear are rationalizations about why something went wrong, Smith said. Rather than being defensive, own the problem, commit to hearing the customer out and do everything to resolve the issue.

9. Keep body language in mind.

Words and tone of voice play a smaller part in communicating than body language does, which means sales staff and employees need to be very aware of what their bodies are saying when engaging with an upset customer, Smith said.

No matter what you think you’re communicating, it will be moot if your body language is closed or defensive.

10. Check in along the way.

As you work to establish what the store can do for the customer, be sure to check in with her or him along the way. Don’t assume that what you think is an appropriate fix is seen the same way by the customer. Check in, listen and observe body language.

11. When worst comes to worst, fire bad customers.

There’s quite a difference between an upset customer with a legitimate complaint and a customer asking for the world, just because she or he can.

Customers who think your store doesn’t deserve to make a profit or who don’t know the difference between a reasonable complaint and overt abuse should be fired, Smith said, noting that no business should continue to entertain abusive customers.

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