How You Handle a Problem is More Important than the Actual Issue

This is a guest blog post written by Seth David, the brains behind the new Small Business Productivity Tips eBook.

If you have worked in any customer service capacity then you have been in a situation where you had to handle a customer complaint.

One of the things I have learned in my almost 40 years of life is that MOST people are not really paying attention to themselves or their reactions. What this translates to when we are having dialogue with one another is that people react. Very few people really exercise much control over their reactions. The reality is that if we all learned to take a deep breath before we respond to people, our interactions in general would go much better. Since most people are not paying attention to themselves and how they are reacting, they tend to be easy to manipulate. I’ll give you an example. Not too long ago, I was driving home from a nice dinner at my friend Adam’s restaurant. The way home is mostly all on one very long street where there are some stretches of open road with no lights for long distances. As I was heading home in my 2004 Toyota Solara, I noticed this guy in a new Mustang driving in the other lane. I was feeling good. While I know there is no way I can beat him in a race, I thought I would amuse myself a bit at his expense. I blew by him before coming to a light. Turns out my expectation proved to be true. He was easy to egg on J. Sure enough – as the light turns green he takes off with maximum velocity! I just slowly accelerated as I was cracking up in my car. Later o,n I caught up with him and he just waved me off with a look of disgust on his face.

So how does this translate with people and in terms of direct verbal interaction? More than likely, whatever you give off is what you are going to get in return. For example… on the customer side of things I have learned that I get much further by politely explaining my frustrations to the customer service person. If I can gain their sympathy then I have an ally on the inside who will work for me and help me get the satisfaction I am looking for. When I call up irate, screaming and threatening people I do not get an ally. I get a very reluctant person who frankly wants to do whatever they can to get rid of me.

When someone comes at me in an aggressive manner, my natural response is to get defensive. No one likes to be told they made a mistake – and no one likes to have it pointed out in that manner. I am not, however, locked into responding based on that initial gut reaction. I can take a second, breathe, and then calmly respond to the person by starting out with something like:

“I can see you’re upset. Rest assured I am going to do everything I can to bring you satisfaction as quickly and painlessly as possible.”

You haven’t even agreed with the person. You have merely stated the obvious and told them you are going to help. This usually calms the person down right away. Like I said earlier, people are easy to manipulate – and manipulating people isn’t always a bad thing. In a case like this it is the best thing you can do. Calm them down so that you can better understand what their frustration is and work with them to resolve the problem. Once you have calmed them down you have already won! Most people in these cases just want to be heard and they just want to be made to feel like someone cares. In fact the majority of people who complain are looking for just that and nothing more. Many times, the complaints are frivolous and really are in fact a waste of time.

When you remember it is not about the complaint and it is about how you react to the complaint, then it no longer matters what the complaint is.

As someone who runs a business, I have found that by handling complaints in this manner I have been able to take the complaint and turn it right around into a selling opportunity. How? By becoming the person’s ally I just became their hero and opened them up to being sold on a product or service – especially if I can offer them a product or service that addresses the very issue they were complaining about. Then, since they were complaining I offer them a “good faith” discount.

I have personally experienced this: Even if I couldn’t get the satisfaction I was looking for when I was complaining to a company about something, as long as I felt like the person I was dealing with was trying to do everything they could to help me, I was satisfied and my faith in them was either maintained or restored.

Here are some more reasons not to get defensive. It uses up a LOT of energy. It is so much better to be wrong and move on than to spend a ton of energy on being right – especially when the other person is not likely to ever be convinced of it. If frees me up to focus on more interesting things. My very top client in my business today came to me not too long ago and complained that some things were not getting done as timely as he would like. This guy tends to be a whiny little baby (no joke) and my initial reaction was to respond based on that. I didn’t. I waited and calmly contemplated what I really wanted out of this. In the grand scheme of things I like working with this guy, even though at times he can be a pain. So when I thought from the point of view of how can I be of service, instead of trying to defend my company and make up excuses for why he was being unreasonable (which is what we are all doing when we get defensive), I thought about it and came up with the perfect win/win solution. I offered that I could check with my staff and see if she could devote more time to him. I went on to offer that maybe 2 days/week instead of one would do the trick. He agreed and graciously thanked me, while I just doubled my billing! Nice work!! It was a much shorter conversation and it was much more profitable on many levels compared with what would have happened if I “defended” myself and my staff member.

Pay attention to your reactions and gauge your responses, not necessarily in accordance with your reaction. You will come out a winner every time. If only more people got this!!

You can find Seth on his website or on Twitter.