It’s the moment everyone dreads: When an irate customer comes into the shop. Are your staff prepared to deal with angry punters? Sales trainer Colin Rees provides his thoughts…
All businesses are concerned when someone complains. How far will they take it? Will it affect our reputation? Will it be in the local paper? But one concern they sometimes may not think about is the effect on the staff.
In training staff in bike shops, often there are young people who have not had wide exposure to life, so may not know what to do with a ranting customer who may be threatening and abusive. They don’t have experience and so only have their common sense and personality to deal with it. They have not been trained in how to deal with someone standing in front of them shouting and angry because the owner has not bothered to help and foster the person he has employed to make his living for him.
One shop I went to was effectively a small space in which to have a blazing row and the course member relating his story was physically threatened during the process. He was on his own and had no idea what was the best thing to do except try not to provoke the customer more. He did not know what to do because no one had told him.
Training staff is not only very productive but it has been proven to help people become more confident and the main purpose is to make each person who works for you more productive. You would imagine we all know that – so why is it I can still question owners in the bike trade to be told they have no induction programme as new starters “will ask questions if they want to know”.
A new person starting knows nothing. They do not know the other people they will work with, how busy it can get, what diversity of products are sold there – they know nothing. They are delighted when they hear they have the job but frightened to death when they start it as they have to do well to keep it. So perhaps those of us who have been at it 30-plus years are going to need empathy. The more effective staff are, the more comfortable they become in their tasks, the more they will make for the business. Sales training has a role and owners of retailing businesses who want to succeed in a big way will be training staff on an ongoing basis. One 30 minute chat won’t do. It has to cover every area of the business and the more skilled they become, the more productive and useful they will be.
How many owners think this way? How many have a weekly meeting where some training can be done? How many owners see it as vital to the business, as important as regularly changing the window, for instance? Training is investment, not expenditure, because you get it back. The time spent on talking about what we do and how we do it is not just critical to outcomes but a direct investment into the well-being of the business and the bottom line.
So, how would you deal with an angry complaining customer? On the training course, we explain that you cannot converse sensibly with anyone in that emotional state of mind, you have to start by bringing it down to a level where the problem can be solved, so you say nothing. You wait until he has burned out, totally, then you do something he doesn’t expect so as to ‘cement’ the change in attitude. You say: “Thank you. Thank you for being kind enough to bring the matter to our attention. If customers did not do that, we wouldn’t know if we can be making improvements so thank you”.
You are on the same level. Now you establish exactly what the complaint is. You repeat the complaint after he agrees so you both know you understand and have established the problem. Then, you tell him what you can’t do: “Well obviously I can’t give you a new bike but…” Then you tell him what you can do, how long that will take, when you will next contact him about it and ensure you have the correct details.
It is said, this is the very best time to sell. Psychologically, you have calmed him, he is satisfied you have listened properly, and understand why he came in. There may be some small guilt at his behaviour as you have been so sweet about it all so he is in the frame of mind to be open to a sales suggestion. I have heard people tell me they have cemented that person into a core customer by dealing with matters properly and professionally, a very different outcome to what could have happened with such an initially angry, worked up individual.
If we do not help our staff to do their jobs effectively, comfortably and without too much stress, how can we reasonably expect them to perform at the top of their ability contributing to our net profit?