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With upset customers, the news of a bad experience will reach twice as many ears as would praise for a good service experience. You probably already knew that intuitively, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. Interacting with happy customers or patients helps us love our jobs; but even the thought of interacting with upset customers—all that discomfort and effort—can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

But here’s a positive statistic: according to a recent survey, 86% of consumers are willing to spend more with a company they believe provides excellent customer service. If you spend the time and energy to turn an upset customer’s negative experience into a positive one, and to prevent negative experiences in the first place, you’ll gain loyal clients who will end up being worth as much as 10 times their first purchase. Here are seven essential steps to create positive service experiences that your customers and patients will return again and again for.

Upset patient negotiationStep 1: Start with the right attitude; be firm but kind.

When facing the discomfort of an upset customer or patient, it can be tempting to give in to whatever they’re asking—anything to stop them yelling at you! But don’t compromise what you know is the right thing. Sometimes saying no, or delivering bad news, is the right answer.

Healthcare adds an additional complication to the equation. “Even though the ‘customer’ comes first, it’s a business where the customer is not always right. In many cases, they don’t want to be a customer at all,” says James Merlino, MD, in a Forbes Magazine interview. “As care providers, we serve people who are often at the most vulnerable times in their lives, and we are responsible for communicating with them, and in some cases, delivering news that can be devastating to an individual or a family.” Read more about dealing specifically with upset patients online.

What you have to say to your customer may not always be what they want to hear. In those cases, just present the information as kindly as possible and offer any solutions that fit the situation.

Step 2: Let the client vent.

Everyone wants to be heard—for some, that’s all they want. It’s not fun for customer service representatives to hear, but sometimes venting frustrations and blowing off steam is exactly what upset customers or patients need to have the frame of mind to come to a resolution.

Step 3: What’s in a name? A lot.

When addressing upset customers, use their names. Don’t overdo it (you don’t want to sound like you’re trying too hard), but for both you and the client or patient, names will elevate the conversation from a business interaction to a conversation between two real people.

“Once you use a name, you’re suddenly speaking with a real person, a client who has a job and a life and a legitimate reason behind his or her frustration, rather than a faceless ‘ma’am,’” says Avery Augustine, manager at a tech company. This will help you be kinder and help the client feel better cared for.

Step 4: Speak slowly and don’t raise your voice.

Your mood has a huge influence on how your interactions will go. If the customer or patient is livid, stay collected. If they are being loud, speak quietly but firmly (see Step 1).

When you stay calm amid the storm of emotions, you show the customer that the problem isn’t as enormous as they might have thought. They can calm down knowing that their problem is now in good hands.

Step 5: As the conversation continues, show empathy.

It’s crucial to show empathy when you are dealing with upset customers or patients. Healthcare organizations that adopt an empathy mindset create a higher level of trust and improve the patient experience, and the same outcome can be expected with any customer interaction.

“A salesperson can demonstrate empathy through eye contact, body language and smaller verbal cues showing engagement and concern,” says Sherrie Campbell, a psychologist in Yorba Linda, California. “Repeat back what’s being said so the customer can feel that she’s being understood.”

Step 6: Move from simple to complex. 

If the customer has multiple complaints, start with the issues that are easiest to fix and end with the hardest. There are two reasons to do this:

“First, resolving relatively easy issues creates momentum. Suppose you’re working with a customer who’s bound and determined to skin you alive when it comes to the main event. By starting with lesser contests and finding inventive solutions, you may get the customer to see the value of exploring new approaches,” says Thomas C. Keiser of the Harvard Business Review. “Second, discussing easier issues may uncover additional variables. These will be helpful when you finally get down to the heart of the negotiation.”

Step 7: Agree to disagree (but make the customer think you’re agreeing to agree)

When you come to the end of the conversation, your stellar listening skills should be telling you whether the customer is satisfied or not. If nothing you’re saying is working, surrender! Come to an agreement that will best satisfy the customer—even if you are 1,000 percent sure you’re right and she’s wrong.

“It’s a natural behavioral mechanism that when a person is allowed to win that she will start to be more open to what she was fighting against,” says Campbell. “This strategy helps [make] difficult customers more open to negotiating because now they feel like the negotiation will be on their terms as they are more in sync with the sales professional’s position.”

When you resolve a complaint in the customer’s favor, they will return to you for business 70% of the time. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to serve your upset customers with patience and empathy. By following these seven steps, you can create positive customer or patient service experiences that will not only grow your business but also make you a more patient and empathetic person.

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