“If they are not there by the time I arrive, cancel the contract!” So fumed the Operations Director of the shipping line that was also this travel agent’s largest client. The salesperson knew the consequences of losing this contract. He’d lose his job too. (A (non) fun fact. If you are a salesperson, there are accounts you should never lose. If you do, just resign; it’s the responsible thing to do as you will be fired anyway). He also knew what to do to diffuse the customer’s anger.; he was capable; he knew how to handle an angry customer.
Handle the angry customer in person
So anyway, this salesperson was promptly present when the Director arrived in his office. He was also acutely aware of the transgressions at hand. The Director had booked a flight from Kenya to Denmark via Nigeria. Two days after his conference in Lagos, he duly showed up at the airport and on presenting his ticket was informed, “Sorry, Sir. There is no ticket here. We only see the stub of your Nairobi -Lagos leg.” These were the days when tickets were hard copies. He turned red. That didn’t help. The ticket was missing and if he wanted to travel to Copenhagen his option was to buy the ticket right there. “In fact, KLM has three seats remaining.” He bought one. But not after calling his office in Nairobi (from Lagos) instructing his personal assistant to cancel the contract with the travel agent.
Check with your relationships (hopefully you had invested)
Luckily, the salesperson had invested well in relationships. He had invested in the Director’s personal assistant through gifts on her birthday and on Valentine’s Day. And the return on investment paid off. She called him. “Hi! What have you guys (sic) done with the Boss. He is breathing fire and brimstone. How could you fail to have that ticket?” “Between you and me, it was there. Even our copies show as such. It’s the airline staff that plucked it. But that doesn’t matter and don’t tell him please. We will sort out the issue.” Because of the relationship, she agreed to hold off cancelling it until ‘the Boss’ returned a week later. “It’s OK. I’ll cool him down till the two of you meet.”
Involve technical staff if you are not versant with the technical stuff
And so it was, that ‘the Boss’ called from JKIA with instructions stating that, “If they are not there by the time I arrive, cancel the contract!” Upon arrival the salesperson was present with the colleague that had issued the ticket, and was more versant with the technical stuff. The salesperson opened with an apology. “I’m sorry about what happened, Sir. We truly are.” The customer was still angry but a week later wasn’t seething.
All the same, he vented; he expressed his anger and issued threats. But this salesperson knew what to do. He opened his notebook and started taking notes. Do you realize how difficult it is to remain angry while your target is taking notes of what you are trying to say? It forces you to become coherent. The more when he occasionally looks up to say, “Sorry I didn’t get that. Did you say….” Note taking shows the seriousness with which you are taking the issue, that you are listening, and at the same time forces the speaker to remain coherent. This is an effective way how to deal with an angry customer without being argumentative. (Another way is to let them just vent, uninterrupted.)
How to handle an angry customer: Apologize, listen, take notes and compensate
“Again, we are truly sorry for what happened. I have noted the four things you mentioned which are (reads them out). And I will get back to you with a response within the two days you mentioned.” He did; he even gave the client a complimentary dinner for two. And so it was that the account was salvaged.
Now then. Investing in relationships especially in B2B sales where decision making is not as straight forward as in B2C selling is invaluable. So too apologizing for what happened. “I’m sorry, for our mistake.” Or, if you didn’t cause it, empathizing with, “I’m sorry for what happened.”. “It wasn’t me” is best avoided. And finally, listen keenly, take notes, compensate as appropriate and get back to them demonstrating resolution of the issue.
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