Customer Experience News & Trends

Three listening skills to defuse the angry customer

Listening skills are important in every stage of the selling process, but they’re critical when a customer is angry.

No matter how hard you try, mistakes will occasionally happen, deliveries will be late, quality problems will develop or customers won’t feel they’re getting the benefits they deserve from the relationship.

The worst case scenario

The worst case scenarios are when the customer refuses to discuss the problem and simply find another supplier. Salespeople aren’t even given a chance to listen to the facts behind the problem or try to resolve it.

Let them vent

The best way to keep customers from simply walking is to let them vent. Unhappy customers want the salesperson to listen to their injuries and sympathize with their problems. It’s difficult to come up with solutions until the customer’s emotions are vented and acknowledge by the salesperson.

Three responses to guard again during the venting stage:

  1. Becoming defensive. Salespeople who become defensive usually escalate the conflict and reduce their ability to come up with satisfactory solutions.
  2. Retaliating by implying the customer was at least partially at fault. While this may be self-satisfying, it doesn’t do anything to defuse the anger the customer is feeling.
  3. Downplaying the customer’s anger or the seriousness of the problem. Making customers feel that their problem is minor or easily fixed may be a blow to their self-esteem. It may lead customers to wonder what they have to do to get their feelings understood.

Listening techniques to avoid

Here are three listening techniques to avoid when customer are venting:

  1. Passive listening. The customers’ words are little more than a buzz in a salesperson’s ears. They hear a few words and phrases but miss the bulk of the message.
  2. Pretend listening. This is the same as passive listening, with the addition of an occasional “uh-huh” or “I see.” These responses aren’t usually coupled with actual attention.
  3. Selective listening. Salespeople listen for key words or phrases that support their point. Instead of listening to the customer, they’re planning their response. The danger of selective listening is that salespeople never learn about the customer’s wants or needs because their responses are based only on their needs.

Three levels of listening that work

Here are three levels of listening that may turn around an angry customer:

  1. Attentive listening. Salespeople listen for key points, but don’t interrupt. They show they’re listening with silence and eye contact. They ask leading questions to guide the information the customer is providing. Attentive listening concentrates on facts and data, not emotional content.
  2. Active listening. Salespeople try to understand the meaning behind the message by noting gestures, facial expressions, posture and demeanor. They allow the customer to control the conversation.
  3. Empathic listening. Salespeople listen with their ears, eyes and mind to become aware of why the customer is upset and what can be done to resolve the problem.

Work on solutions

After customers are allowed to vent, they usually calm down, giving you a chance to work on solutions. You will want to make sure you agree on the problem and have some basic ideas on how to resolve it.The key, then, is to implement a solution and follow-up to make sure it’s carried out.

Adapted from How to Manage Conflict (Career Press) by Peg Pickering.

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