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angry_client(MCT)—Something has gone wrong with one of your clients. One of your employees has made a mistake or maybe you were the one who messed up. Either way, you have a hopping-mad person on your hands and a sinking feeling in your stomach. How do you deal? How do you recover?

Start by taking a step back from the situation. As tempting as it might be to dive headlong into the debate over who is at fault, stop and take a deep breath first. It’s important to remember that your first move in an emotionally charged situation is to manage your own feelings before attempting to manage anyone else. Think of the pre-flight safety announcement, where the flight attendants instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.

In the midst of an argument, make a deliberate effort to speak a little more softly and slowly than the person you are talking to. Then consider these strategies for handling a service failure and turning the situation around.

Face to face: Once a customer service situation starts to go south, make sure you stop relying on email or instant message or text as a primary channel of communication. If possible, get face to face with your client, or at a minimum, make sure you pick up the phone.

Once a solution is reached, by all means, follow up with an email to recap the discussion and create an electronic trail if needed.

Communicate Caring: Leadership author John C. Maxwell wrote, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Remember this principle when talking to an irate customer. As a business owner, you are likely to have more information about the situation than the customer, and you may feel like a simple explanation is all that is required.

However, someone who is really upset won’t be able to listen to your version of events (even if it is the correct one), until they can calm down. So don’t waste your breath going over contract clauses until you’ve dealt with that person’s concerns. Speak directly to their feelings with empathy and reassurance. For example, “Boy, if that happened to me, I would be pretty upset too. I’m so sorry this has happened, and I’m going to do my best to fix it and make sure you are taken care of.”

Walk your customer through their story, so that you can understand the sequence of events through their eyes. Avoid interrupting with “what really happened.” Ask questions and paraphrase to show you are fully engaged in their narrative.

Once they have had a chance to fully tell their side of the story to a sympathetic listener (you), you may find that much of the wind has gone out of their sails.

Recover, Rebuild: When you first pick up the phone to someone yelling at you on the other end, your goal is probably to just put things back the way they were. But there is evidence that doing service recovery well can actually make that relationship stronger than it was before. Service failures are a test, and if you ace the test, you can wind up with even greater trust and loyalty, because your customer has now seen how you react to adversity.

Exceptional service recovery can even translate into a boost for your referrals, as your formerly-irate customer tells all their friends about how you went the extra mile to make it right.

Whatever you agree to as a remedy, whether it be a refund or a freebie or a promise to fix the underlying cause of the problem, make sure to follow through. It’s also a good idea to check-in with your client after the refund/freebie/fix has been delivered to re-emphasize that you value the relationship and are looking forward to the future.

Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book “Ask the Mompreneur” and the founder of the social shopping website

©2013 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services