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Working With the Outspoken Customer

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In a customer service industry, one of the most challenging customers can be the one who cannot stop talking. He wants to engage you on uncomfortable, controversial subjects. He has explanations that run into endless, irrelevant details. She may think your primary responsibility is to be her audience.

There are many different types of customers who won’t quit talking. Some are insecure and afraid that you won’t understand what they’re talking about, so they talk in circles and add unimportant details. Others are essentially bullies who want to engage you in a verbal battle. Lastly, there are always some who are simply lonely and starved for interaction.

Here are some tips to help you establish boundaries, have your customer respected, and still have a professional interaction with these long winded people.

Actively Listen for a Reasonable Amount of Time
Give the customer a chance to explain the problem or issue at hand. Face the customer, nod your head, and make eye contact. All of these non-verbal cues will indicate to him that you are listening. If the explanation goes on for too long, it’s time to interrupt, and briefly restate the problem. Say something like, “So, you’re telling me the problem is…” This should give your customer the reassurance that he has been heard and understood. It also gives you a break in the ongoing monologue.

David Krueger, of Greiner Heating and Air Conditioning, says they take a different track, “Our philosophy is different from many companies. We are in the people business. Our technicians don’t have time constraints, so if we encounter a customer who wants to talk a lot, it’s not a problem. We involve the customer in every aspect of our visit and have them follow us while we show them parts and discuss the equipment. We use the term ‘house calls,’ which implies the pleasant and personalized service we provide.”

Set a Time Frame
This strategy works well for customers you already know are chronically chatty. Take control right out of the gate. When your customer opens the door, say, “Hello Mrs. Smith! I’m Bill from General A/C Repair to fix your problem! We’ve scheduled a full 20 minutes today to devote to your problem, and I’m ready to start. I understand that…” You’re being cheerful, polite, and professional without giving her an opening to say anything.

If your customer is unknown, but quickly proves to be in the long-winded category, you can employ the same tactic saying, “I’m going to get right on that! We’re really swamped today, so I’ll get you fixed up ASAP!”

In either case, after you’ve made the initial greeting and assessment, it is perfectly acceptable to get started with your work. If the customer demands an answer from you that is not work related, non-comital replies may help:

  • I don’t discuss politics (religion, social issues, etc.) on company time.
  • I don’t keep up with news (social media, gossip, sports, etc.).

Lead the Conversation
You sometimes encounter a customer that tries to engage you. He asks never ending questions that are somewhat work related, but are really just rambling in disguise. To avoid getting sucked in by this time waster, take the offensive.

Pick one of the customer’s questions as a reference point, and then take over the questioning. Questions let you steer the conversation, and you might just find out something pertinent that the customer overlooked in describing the original issue. The key here is to be assertive.

Some customers leave you with no alternative but to interrupt. It happens. The most obvious situation where it’s ok to interrupt is when your customer is being offensive. There is no reason for you to endure the discomfort, whether he is insulting you personally, using foul language, or whether he is denigrating a person or group. Be assertive without being angry, make eye contact, and say, “I’m going to have to interrupt you there Mr. Jones. This line of thought has nothing to do with me doing my job. Let’s get back to taking care of the problem you called in about.”

For a milder case of non-stop talking, you may want to use something more subtle like asking, “Do I hear a phone ringing?” At times all that’s required is a simple derailment of Mrs. Brown’s train of thought.

Wrap it Up
You’ve completed the work, the appointment is finished, and your customer still wants to keep talking. Other than screaming in frustration, what can you do? Now is a good time to pull out your collection of closing phrases.

  • That went very well. Here’s your copy of the work order, and you have a great day!
  • Sorry to rush, but my next appointment is waiting!
  • We sure appreciate your business!

Now is your chance to walk away. Even if the customer follows you out the door and to your truck, just keep walking. Give a smile and a wave, and drive off into the sunset. You were professional, you did your job, and you represented your company well. Hopefully with these tips, you also kept your sanity!

Melinda Wamsley

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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