Paul E. Griffin III in Forbes: Three Steps To Calming Angry Customers
Once someone decides to move into a senior living facility, they’re typically ready to move as soon as possible. So when one of our facilities ran into roadblocks that pushed our opening date back, it was also up to me and my team to shore up what amounted to broken promises to our future residents. Failure to address the concerns and quell the anxieties of would-be residents could result in lost customers, Griffin Living’s reputation, and capital for us at a time when we were launching our first product under a new brand. We had to do something.
Chances are, you’ve probably been in a similar situation at one point or another in your business, especially in the past few years with the pandemic. Sometimes things outside of our control upend our best laid plans and leave us scrambling to calm angry customers.
In facing the difficult situation with our delayed move-in date, we decided to take the high road — not the easy road — to show our customers empathy and understanding during what was a stressful time for all of us, to great success. Next time you find yourself dealing with a dissatisfied customer, try these three steps to address their complaints.
Get Face-To-Face With Your Customers
With so many would-be residents upset about the delay, I knew addressing them one by one wasn’t feasible. I decided to host a “meet the developer” event where residents and their families could meet me and my team in person, ask us questions, and tell us their concerns. People practically begged me not to do this. They said the audience would tar and feather me if I gave them a chance.
I did it anyway.
My team flew in from all over the country for the event. I put a team member at each table of guests. That way, people with concerns would be able to share a meal with my team and ask them questions in a comfortable, personal environment.
Thankfully, the naysayers were wrong. The response to that event was overwhelmingly positive. By meeting our team face-to-face, residents were able to make personal connections with the people on my team, including me. That personal connection helped to calm tempers and build trust in our brand.
It can feel frightening to meet with someone you know is angry or disappointed in you. But it shouldn’t be. It’s easy for people to send angry emails or write negative reviews, but it’s always been my experience that meeting face-to-face inspires greater civility and cooperation. Show your customers the respect of meeting them face to face to address their concerns.
Hold Space For Negative Comments
It’s human nature to avoid unpleasant interactions, but in the case of trying to quell a spark of discontent before it becomes a raging inferno of lost customers, early intervention is best. A little sting is better than a third-degree burn.
Before the event, I instructed my team to “hold space for negative comments.” What that means is, listen to the clients’ concerns — even if they’re spoken in an angry tone or not entirely logical — without jumping into judgment or defense. It’s not an easy task, but it works.
By allowing your customers to vent their frustrations, you release the pressure valve before they take a more explosive action — in this case, canceling their contracts.
Hold the space for your customers to express negative opinions and disappointments, even when it’s difficult. Getting angry or defensive yourself will only add fuel to the fire. Instead, listen with compassion and empathy, and you’ll do a lot toward repairing the broken bond between you.
Be Transparent About The Situation
In our case, our facilities hadn’t opened on time because of supply chain issues and shipping hangups all caused by Covid-19 related problems. This really, truly wasn’t our fault.
But it was our problem.
At the ”meet the developer” event, I explained in detail what was causing our delays. This was not an exercise in passing the buck, but rather, to be transparent with our residents about exactly what was causing the problem.
Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam, and the longer it lasted, the more angry you became? Then the minute you find out there’s been an accident a mile ahead, you instantly feel a little calmer. Knowing what’s causing your inconvenience doesn’t actually change its duration, but it does make it more bearable.
No, the supply chain shortages and shipping backups weren’t our fault, but we took accountability for what was going wrong without apologizing for things that we had no control over. Communicating what went wrong and what we were doing to combat these conditions provided transparency and accountability to our clients.
If you messed up, own up to it. If there are outside forces keeping you from meeting deadlines, be transparent about it. Whatever you do, don’t keep your customers in the dark or make excuses. Letting them know what’s going on goes a long way toward buying their patience and understanding.
Don’t Be Afraid To Do The Right Thing
Defusing angry clients comes down to doing the right thing — treating people the way you’d like to be treated. Look people in the eye, tell them the truth, and allow them to express their frustrations and opinions. It’s not only the right way to solve a difficult situation, it’s also just the right thing to do.