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Difficult customers are a part of doing business. Being prepared in advance can go a long way toward a positive resolution and earning you a loyal customer.

by Tasha Willingham

Have you ever felt slighted by a purchase? Or frustrated that the item you purchased was subpar compared to your expectations? I think we have all been there. As a paying customer, it’s hard not to feel slighted when you don’t get what you pay for.

Most dealerships certainly experience their fair share of difficult customers. It’s tough enough to address their concerns in the showroom or service lane, but it can be even more challenging when you are trying to address tough customers on the phone. Here are seven things to remember when managing a difficult customer on the phone.

  1. Callers want to feel heard and understood.

At the outset of a call, a difficult customer is more likely to be emotional. They may be loud and even seem aggressive in the beginning. Remember, they feel as though they have been denied something or received subpar service. In many situations, this is likely the case. Take the time to listen to your caller and validate their concerns, saying something like “I’m sorry to hear that you had this experience and I appreciate the opportunity to help make it right.” Listen, empathize, validate. That will help put the call on a calmer track.

  1. Keep your cool and show that you care.

The worst thing you can do when managing a difficult customer on the phone is offering an emotional response, you need to be calm and collected. But you also want the caller to know that you care about their situation. You can say something like “I can understand why this would prompt you to call us. Just know we are going to make sure you are taken care of.” Remember for many people their cars are their livelihood!

  1. Be a problem solver and offer a selection of solutions.

One size definitely does not fit all when managing a difficult customer on the phone. Once you have validated your caller’s concerns, move directly into resolving the issue. Time is valuable and your caller likely already feels like you (or someone at your dealership) have wasted a significant portion of their time already. Try to identify ways you can resolve the problem and provide multiple solutions where possible. This way, the caller feels empowered by choice. You might say something similar to, “Well we can resolve this by giving you a credit for the damaged part or ship a new one directly to you. What would work best for you?”

  1. Give a little extra where possible.

Ever been upgraded to first class for giving up your seat? It’s a great way to gain a little loyalty. Customer retention is tough and customer loyalty hard-earned, but problems can lead to prosperity when managed the right way. Research found that the average dealer could see up to an additional $2.5 million in revenue by simply improving customer satisfaction by one point on a five-point scale. Give a little upgrade and you’ll gain profits down the line from your new loyal customer. Say something such as “Let’s see if we can’t get you some free oil changes for your time.” (When approved, of course.)

  1. Consult your scripts.

Dealers often go to extra lengths to prepare for difficult customers and they often compile scripts that phone reps can consult along the way when the conversation gets stuck. Keep copies of those close by and pull some gems from those scripts if you find a lull in the conversation. You could say, “Whatever applies to your situation from your script.” (Ok, we know this one isn’t an exact formula, but you get the gist. Here are some tips for a great phone training program to get you started.)

  1. Escalate when necessary.

Sometimes, a difficult customer may just want to feel like they are being recognized and if your validation doesn’t cut it, your managers might. Don’t worry about escalating when appropriate, especially if you can’t prevent a negative change to the conversation. You could say, “This sounds like we need someone to look into a little further. I’d like to transfer you to my supervisor.” Make it quick and don’t leave them hanging on hold.

  1. It’s not personal.

Remember, it’s not personal. Difficult customers may need an outlet for their frustrations and you may become the target of that, but it’s not personal. You’re far more likely to find a resolution if you remember that the caller’s anger has nothing to do with you, but is completely about their own experience. You could say, “I agree, that doesn’t sound like what was promised. Let’s see how we can fix that for you.”

Difficult customers are a part of doing business. Being prepared in advance can go a long way toward a positive resolution and earning you a loyal customer.

Remember, we help prepare phone reps for all kinds of customers and even provide scripts and scorecards to help keep your phone reps ready for any caller!

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