The customer may always be right (or not), but the customer is not always cheerful.  One of the day-to-day challenges facing shopkeepers and our employees is how to deal with an unhappy customer.  Here are four techniques I hope you’ll find helpful:

1)Acknowledge that the customer is upset and ask them to tell you the problem.  Listen carefully, and if you think it will help, rephrase their complaint to make it clear that you understood what they said. Sometimes an unhappy customer just wants to be heard.

2)Apologize sincerely. “I’m so sorry” are three short words that mean a lot, and are not used often enough.

3)Try to come up with a solution.  If we’re out of stock on something, we try to find an alternative product that often turns out to be a satisfactory choice. Or we will offer to place a special order and contact the customer when it arrives.  We also are very willing to call other stores in our area to see if anyone else has the item on hand. For returns or unsatisfactory merchandise, a cheerful refund is often the least expensive solution in the long run.

4)Keep the problem in perspective. It’s easy to take on the bad vibes of a customer who is unhappy, but after all, we’re not dealing with national defense issues.  If nothing else, a really crabby customer will make for a funny story later.  We once had a customer call to ask why we had closed at 2:00 on Christmas Eve, and then sputter “It’s people like you who turned away Mary and Joseph at the inn!”.  I’m sure I was hurt at the time, but I’ve been quoting this anecdote ever since.

5)Take care of yourself. You will probably find that taking a break, preferably outside the store, is very helpful when the stress gets to be too much.  Or talk to a fellow retailer or an employee, off the sales floor and out of ear-shot of customers.  You might also treat yourself to a snack, preferably one with some protein (a cup of yoghurt, some almonds, or an energy bar).  When I first tried acupuncture, the practitioner placed a needle between my eyebrows. She told me that the purpose of that needle was to relax me, and laughed when I said that a cup of tea and a square of really dark chocolate usually has that effect.

We try hard to create a store environment that is relaxing and pleasant, and most of our customers do seem happy with their shopping experience. But we realize that some people are crabby because of other factors in their lives.  We know we can’t solve the outside problems that they’re facing, but we do our best to defuse whatever issue they have relating to shopping in our store.  If we can make them happier, it will make us happier too!

Happy Retailing,

Carol “Orange” Schroeder

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