You can never know for sure what customers might say, but it's a pretty safe bet that most retail sales associates are familiar with a number of phrases customers tend to use, such as "Do you have this in my size?" "Where's the restroom?" and "Is this the sale price or the regular price?" But if retail employees had to pick one common phrase they would prefer not to hear from a customer, a leading candidate would have to be, "I'd like to speak to a manager."
While retail salespeople may complain about customers who demand to see the boss, managers should go the extra mile to embrace these argumentative or difficult shoppers -- even during the holidays. As industry consultant Rick Segel says, it's always better to try to pacify angry customers than watch them storm off, never to return.
"As a rule of thumb, it's only a customer who cares, at least somewhat, about a business who will actually complain," he says.
Get the Manager and Go
Segel acknowledges that some retailers fail to train their employees on how to react when a customer asks to speak to the manager. This is unfortunate, since his suggestion for what the employee should do is quite simple.
"When someone asks to see the manager that means they're probably upset about the treatment or service they are getting," Segel explains. "So the most important thing for the employee to say is, ‘No problem,' and go get the manager."
But watch your attitude in these situations. "In this case, the old adage, ‘It's not what you say, it's how you say it' applies," he says. "So be cordial, go get the manager and then excuse yourself from the situation."
Let Them Have Their Say
Segel advises managers to simply let the customer explain the situation, at length if necessary.
"Angry customers are like a tire that's full of air, and you want them to defuse themselves by talking it out," says Segel, author of Retail Business Kit for Dummies. "Be empathetic by saying, ‘Tell me more. These are the things we need to hear.'"
He also counsels managers to thank the person for sharing the information, no matter how much it pains them to do so. "Lines such as ‘Thank you for bringing this to our attention -- this is a matter we can address' work well," he says. "By asking short questions -- ‘Is there anything else we should know?' -- and letting them know you are an empathetic listener, they will usually talk long enough to calm down."
Be Open to Suggestions
The next step is to ask the customer to suggest a remedy. The customer's request will likely either be well within your power to accommodate or completely unrealistic, Segel says.
"When they ask for something unrealistic, the proper response is, ‘That's a great idea. I wish we could do that. But unfortunately, we can't.' By saying this, you're basically agreeing with them," Segel says. "Instead, work with them to come up with a suitable solution that can be a win-win for everybody concerned. Once you've come up with some type of remedy, get them to agree to it."
Make Note of It
Before concluding the conversation, get the customer's name and address, Segel advises. Then send a handwritten note thanking him for his time and concern.
"An angry customer is actually an opportunity," he says. "Some of your best customers will probably start off as your harshest critics. When you genuinely listen to their concerns, then follow up with a handwritten note and maybe even a phone call a couple days later, you will win that customer over for life. After all, every person and every business will make mistakes. It's what we do about those mistakes that impresses people."