Self-storage manager Mary stands up with a smile on her face, ready to greet the customer as he walks through the office door. Then the dam bursts. The man explodes into a mad tirade, claiming the company failed to deliver on a service he expected, costing him time and money.
Mary does her best to reason with the customer, but nothing she says seems to help. The tenant only gets angrier, shouting accusations and spiraling further into a rage. Within a few minutes, he walks out, vowing never to do business with the storage company again and to post bad reviews online.
Storage managers often have to deal with unhappy tenants as part of the job, and it's never easy. But if we know what to say and, more important, how to say it, we may be able to save the situation. In fact, we can even end up having a better relationship with the tenant by showing we care.
Let’s explore how to deal with angry or difficult customers. Here are seven steps you can take to smooth things over and leave them feeling satisfied.
Step 1: Adjust Your Mindset
Once you're aware your tenant is unhappy, your first priority is to put yourself into a customer-service mindset. This means you set aside any feelings you might have that the situation isn't your fault, the tenant made a mistake or he’s giving you unfair criticism. All that matters is you realize he’s upset and it's up to you to solve the problem.
Give 100 percent of your focus to your customer and the current situation. As the ambassador of your company, you accept responsibility for his discontent. Again, this doesn’t make you “at fault,” and it doesn’t give the customer leeway to demand whatever he wants. Rather, it gives him someone to talk to instead of being angry at a faceless company.
Step 2: Listen Actively
The most important step in the process is actively listening to what your customer is saying. He wants to be heard and to air his grievances. Start the dialogue with a neutral statement such as, "Let's go over what happened" or "Please tell me why you're upset." This subtly creates a partnership between you and your tenant, and lets him know you're ready to listen.
Resist the temptation to try and solve the situation right away or jump to conclusions about what happened. Instead, let your tenant tell his story. As he's talking, don't plan out what you're going to say when he's done—this isn't active listening. Also, don't allow anything to interrupt this conversation. Give your tenant all of your attention.
Step 3: Repeat His Concerns
Once he's had time to explain why he's upset, repeat the customer’s concerns so you're sure you're addressing the right issue. If you need to, ask questions to make sure you've identified the problem correctly. Use calm, objective wording. For example, "As I understand it, you’re upset because we didn't deliver the service as promised."
Repeating the problem shows the customer you were listening, which can help lower his anger and stress levels. More than this, it helps you agree on the problem that needs to be solved.
Step 4: Be Empathic and Apologize
Once you're sure you understand your tenant's concerns, be empathic. Show him you understand why he's upset, and make sure your body language also communicates this understanding and empathy. For example, you could say, "I understand why you're upset. I would be, too. I'm very sorry we didn't get this right and it's caused problems."
Step 5: Present a Solution
Now you need to present your customer with a solution. There are two ways to do this. If you feel you know what will make him happy, tell him how you'd like to correct the situation. If you're not sure what the tenant wants from you or he resists your proposed solution, then give him the power to resolve things. Ask him to identify what will make him satisfied.
For instance, you could say, "If my solution doesn't work for you, I'd love to hear what will make you happy. If it's in my power, I'll get it done; and if it's not possible, we can work on another solution together." It can be hard to come up with a perfect answer for a customer in an agitated state. Even if you handle things perfectly, some people simply can’t be appeased. Don’t let that stop you from making your best effort.
Step 6: Take Action and Follow Up
Once you've agreed on a solution, you need to take action immediately. Explain every step you're going to take to fix the problem. If he’s contacted you by phone, make sure he has your name and contact details. This gives him a feeling of control because he can get a hold of you again if necessary. And if you use a call center, the tenant won’t get frustrated by not being able to reach you directly. Once the situation has been resolved, follow up with him in the next few days to make sure he's happy with the resolution.
Whenever you can, go above and beyond expectations. For instance, you could send him a gift certificate, give him a rental discount or send a hand-written apology. One of my favorite tips in dealing with customers is to make sure you always “close” a conversation. This has nothing to do with closing a sale and everything to do with making sure the dialog with the customer is complete.
Step 7: Use the Feedback
Your last step is to reduce the risk of the situation happening again. If you haven't already done so, identify how the problem started in the first place. What can be done to ensure it doesn’t repeat itself? Find the root of the trouble and make sure it's fixed immediately. Also ensure you're managing complaints and feedback effectively, so you can improve the way you do things.
It's important to handle difficult customers professionally. Learning to stay calm and cool under pressure can help you get through challenging situations with grace and professionalism.
If your tenant is especially angry, talk slowly and calmly, and use a low tone of voice. This will subtly help lower the tension and ensure you don't escalate the situation by visibly getting stressed or upset yourself. Never rise to his level.
If your tenant has sent you a difficult e-mail or he’s angry with you over the phone, then offer to meet with him in person to address the problem. This will not only diffuse irritation since it's harder for most people to get truly angry face-to-face, it will show you genuinely want to and fix the problem.
If you feel your client is being unreasonable, you might start to get upset, especially if he’s criticizing you or your company unfairly. Learn anger-management skills so you can stay calm in these situations. Also work on improving your conflict-resolution skills. These can help you if you need to negotiate with difficult people.
Occasionally a customer may become verbally abusive toward you or your coworkers. Know in advance what you will and won’t tolerate. If things escalate, you may need to be assertive and stand up for yourself, or even walk away from the situation to give the customer time to cool down.
Your willingness to ensure a customer is leaving your business perfectly happy shows him three important things:
- You care about getting it right.
- You’re willing to keep going until you get it right.
- The customer is the one who determines what “right” is.
Try ending the conversation on a positive note: "Excellent! I’m glad we were able to get that sorted out for you. Before you go, is there anything else I can assist you with today? I’m happy to help.” Remember, you’re the ambassador of your company, and the tenant’s interaction will ultimately start and end with you.
Susan Haviland is the owner of Haviland Storage Services and a partner of industry consulting and training firm Self Storage 101. She has more than 26 years of industry experience, from serving as a site manager to acting as vice president of operations at Extra Space Storage Inc. and Price Self Storage. She's a frequent speaker at industry conferences and tradeshows. For more information, call 866.360.2621; visit www.selfstorage101.com.