Dealing with obstinate customers is equal parts art and science. This aspect of customer relations often demands imagination and resourcefulness because all the answers are not in books. In my last column, I discussed some ways people handle irate, stubborn customers. Here are more ideas to consider.
Some service personnel find that having customers sign all work orders or job estimates becomes their first line of defense if trouble occurs later on. Not only can a signature take the wind out of an angry customer's sails, it can also reinforce your image to other customers. Here's why.
No matter what local laws require, some managers or service writers take the offensive with service reports and job estimates by approaching paperwork the way a bank does. That is, they explain what the estimate or diagnostic report says in plain English, then they have the customer sign the report.
If a customer declines all or part of the recommended repairs, he signs the report accordingly. The service writer also signs the report and stows a carbon copy of it in the customer's file.
The signature eliminates surprises by confirming that the customer saw the estimate or report. Second, it's a simple, convenient way to prove that a service writer explained the estimate, including the potential consequences of declining the recommended repairs.
If you've been toe-to-toe with ``screamers,'' you'll probably agree that they try to intimidate you several ways. They know that few people have the stomach or backbone for prolonged arguments-least of all, ugly scenes in front of customers in the waiting room.
They figure that you'd rather turn into a pillar of salt than be humiliated in front of people you'll be waiting on momentarily.
A screamer also thinks that if he attacks successfully, you'll instinctively practice damage control by giving in instead of prolonging an ugly scene in the waiting room.
The third advantage of a signed work order or estimate is that it has an unusually calming effect on a screamer who tries to grandstand his way around you by staging confrontations in the dealership's waiting room.
When a service writer produces the signed copy, the best the screamer can hope to do is try saving face by denying the signature's authenticity. Or, he may pout that he didn't really understand what was explained to him after all.
Regardless, wielding the signed report is a polite, professional way of surprising him and throwing him back on the defensive. If he attacks again, firmly but politely offer to explain the report a second time, emphasizing the risks of declining recommended repairs.
Instead of looking foolish or weak in front of the other customers, this approach makes you look concerned, thorough and professional.
When faced with an upset customer, many service people I've observed stand their ground at the counter or service desk. To them, yielding ground is a sign of weakness.
Isolate your 'problem'
However, if someone won't budge from his position, prolonging a heated confrontation in front of other customers accomplishes nothing. Isolate the person in another room, preferably out of view and earshot of the waiting room.
Some managers told me the smartest approach is to bring the customer into their office. This gesture reinforces your interest in their problem and their satisfaction. The move to another room gives you extra time to gather your thoughts and the customer a moment to calm down.
Plus, moving to a private room helps disarm those consummate grandstanders. Where necessary, allow the person to scream out his frustrations. Then calmly restate what you're willing to do to solve his problem. Remember that the person who loses his temper loses the argument!
One wily veteran takes the one-on-one approach with obstinate customers a step further. If the customer won't listen to reason, this owner switches seats with him, literally placing the customer in the boss' chair. Then he asks the dissatisfied customer to play Solomon, ruling on the dispute as if he was in charge of the store.
This reverse psychology forces the customer to shut up and begin thinking. Meanwhile, experience shows the approach both stymies and humbles the person without embarrassing him. After several minutes of stunned silence, the customer is usually ready for a calm discussion and a reasonable solution, the owner assured me.