There are many articles, books and blogs written on the subject of “How To Deal With Difficult People.”
The world is replete with them and I agree that sometimes the temptation when they get really nasty is to ignore them.
The flip side of the subject is to do your best to resolve the complaints.
These the people have become difficult because they think they have been wronged in some way.
They are our obligation because we represent the source of their problem.
When I was a kid just out of college, I was hired by the New York Telephone Company to be a commercial representative. This was a coveted job because it paid the exorbitant sum of $39.00 a week. It took a gazillion interviews before you were chosen.
Before you were permitted to speak to one of their customers, they put you through a rigorous training for three months. A full month was devoted to answering complaints.
One of the first principles taught was to immediately express extreme sorrow for the inconvenience.
We were to infer that of course we must be wrong. And it had to sound sincere. They had a term for this sincerity in our voice called “tone” which was graded mercilessly.
It was the exact opposite of “push one for billing – push two for technical assistance etc. etc.etc.” that we hear today.
I am soooo sorry about that. Please tell me what happened. Or, there was a mistake on your bill? Let me help you correct our records.
We were absolutely forbidden to say these two words.
“Yes, but –“
They even had “tone” contests in the role playing exercises to rate your sincerity.
I won once and all I could think is I must be the biggest phony in the class. For years afterwards when I really wanted to express sorrow to a friend, I questioned whether I sounded sad to them.
How was my tone?
We were to hear the customer out fully. Do not interrupt. Let them rant and rave until they were done.
This was based on the premise that half the job was solved when they felt they were fully heard. Only murmurs of sorrow about the problem were to be interjected here and there.
This last technique usually worked well. Would they please, please put this terrible travesty in writing so the proper channels could be contacted?
We want to help and we need all the ammunition they can give us.
By the time the conversation was over, these people were in love with us. Finally, someone understood. Someone cared.
They did not always get what they wanted, by the way, but a lot of anger was dissipated along the way.
I am telling you – this works. t was the best training I ever got and I taught it in all my sales courses and my students came back and reported that it worked for them too.
After the three months of training, we were finally ready to take our “first call.”
Nobody slept that night. It was a huge deal. A supervisor was plugged into the side of your desk so she could monitor it. Every one of us was shaking.
My first call was written up in all the house magazines which went to employees of the national Bell system.
It was from Macy’s.
It was Christmastime and they were bringing Santa Claus into the store on the back of a small elephant.
He was jammed in the entrance between a bank of phone booths. He was up on his hind legs and snorting.
Santa Claus was was crying.
THEY NEEDED HELP NOW. IMMEDIATELY.
I started to say, “Oh, I am so sorry that –“ when my supervisor grabbed the call away from me.
It was one time when just being sorry – even with the best “tone” could not solve the complaint.
Elephants were not covered in the training curriculum.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE DIFFICULT CUSTOMERS?
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