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Fix The Problem And Not The Customer

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Both residential and commercial contractors learn that customer dispositions span the gamut from easy-to-please to high-maintenance. When customers misbehave, it becomes paramount to focus on and fix “the problem” and not attempt to fix “the customer’s behavior.” During a recent trip, I witnessed a terrific example of how a flight attendant remained focused and calm without allowing a customer’s bad behavior to make things worse.

Moment of Truth

While waiting to board a West Coast flight back home to Philadelphia I listened as the pre-boarding announcement began. These announcements typically include an invitation for frequent fliers to board first, followed by everyone else. However, this announcement was different. Passengers were told that the flight was full and with more than half being frequent fliers, boarding would occur from the back of the plane forward, regardless of flier status.

It wasn’t great news, but as a seasoned traveler I’ve learned to roll with the punches, that is, to remain patient and focused on the final destination: Home.

As boarding began, it soon became obvious that the flight attendants had their hands full. It didn’t take long for storage space to run out, thereby forcing passengers seated in the front, myself included, to check their luggage.

One passenger in particular became indignant with a female flight attendant when he was informed of the scarce luggage space. The irate passenger looked this flight attendant in the eye, thrust his finger toward her face, and yelled, “I can’t believe that you let all of these other people on first, and then you make me check my luggage?”

Everyone within 15 feet of them stopped to look and listen. The scene quickly fell silent, and it became clear to me that this was what I would have called a “MOMENT OF TRUTH.”

I watched with a keen sense of curiosity as the flight attendant nodded emphatically and then informed the passenger in a calm and reassuring manner that she would personally check his baggage. Aware now of the sharp contrast between his tirade and the calm response of the flight attendant, and realizing that he had behaved like a jerk, the previously irate passenger agreed to her offer of personal service.

Preserving The Relationship

As a customer service professional, a moment of truth occurs when training and preparation are put to the test. It is a situation when rational thinking, a calm demeanor, and a deliberate response must prevail. Most importantly, you only get one chance to get it right. If the flight attendant had given even a hint of rolling eyes, snippy retaliation, or apathy, then her confrontation with the irate passenger could have escalated. Remaining calm is not easy, but it is achievable with practice and application even in the midst of a personal attack.

The challenge for service professionals is to remain calm, think rationally, and to not take things personally when customers imply blame or make their criticism personal. The ability to detach oneself from a situation along with preserving the self-esteem of the customer is a key part of rational thinking — no matter what. The

likelihood of a mutually satisfying resolution increases if a service professional can maintain good composure, respond appropriately, and show genuine empathy for the customer. However, once the self-esteem of a customer is damaged with an inappropriate response, the off ended party might become defensive or, worse yet, play the victim with even more reason to carry on.

Is The Customer Always Right?

The maxim “The customer is always right,” unfortunately has confused some service professionals due to an apparent incongruity between reality and the maxim itself. This confusion might cause a few service professionals to focus on and attempt to fix a customer’s behavior. Service professionals must strive to fix problems, not bad behavior.

Getting to the root cause of what is causing the customer to behave badly will eventually fix the behavior. Therefore, when a customer is wrong, it’s the service professional’s primary job to contain the situation so it doesn’t get worse. The ability to keep a situation contained takes practice, application, resiliency, and a positive attitude along with a desire to do what is correct.

Steve Coscia, CSP

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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