The last thing any business wants are angry customers. You hire, train, and coach to make sure a heat case doesn’t happen, and yet, sometimes, in our industry, irate customers are inevitable. As a manager, your goal should always be to listen to the customer, diffuse the situation, and solve their problem. Easier said than done, though. Yet, handling angry customers is a process in itself, and in the same way that you train sales processes, you must also prepare for an unideal confrontation in your dealership.
Working with angry customers
First, and this is not one of the steps, you need to care about why the customer is upset. There are all types of angry customers. Sure, we know you’re making solid profits right now, and life looks good. We know it won’t last forever but hasn’t left us yet. Even if the tsunami of over-MSRP pricing from having diminished inventory is receding, there are still waves of near full-retail contracts lapping upon our shores. We have set up our umbrella and bask in its glory for as long as it lasts.
However, that comfortable situation isn’t the case for angry customers. Vehicles are more unaffordable for the average American than ever before. Their interest rates are increasing, as is the price of the vehicle, and, to that end, their monthly payment. They’re bound to be frustrated and have higher expectations of you because of it.
Meeting customer expectations
Consider this… if you put yourself up in a Holiday Inn Express for the night, you know what you’re getting. You expect the room to be clean, but you’re only paying $150 for the night, so it doesn’t upset you if the carpet is a bit worn and frayed. You overlook the lackluster toiletries provided and dismiss the overly starched bedding.
The air conditioning unit rattles a bit. It’s $150, what do you expect? Now, put yourself up at a Ritz Carlton for $1,000/night. You’re paying more than what you prefer to pay. If that Ritz Carlton had those same issues, would you accept it? Heck no! It’s a Ritz Carlton. You’re paying a hefty amount per night – you expect a level of luxury and, dare I say it, perfection. You are disquieted even if the shower had weak water pressure or a dripping faucet.
Well, customers are paying more than they’ve been accustomed to, often for vehicles that aren’t exactly what they want due to a limited supply. Their expectations have changed, but their (Holiday Inn Express-level) experience hasn’t.
A heat case now and then is bound to happen. And we need to improve the service level and be trained in handling angry customers when it gets to that place. It is an unfortunate inevitability.
10 steps for managers to take when dealing with angry customers
Yes, this sounds stupid even to mention this step, but I see managers that are sitting a bit too pretty under a façade of high grosses who can’t admit when they may be wrong. First things first, apologize.
- Get eye to eye
Do not tower over a customer while they’re sitting at a desk in your showroom. You need to get on eye level with them. Don’t feel that you must demonstrate strength or leadership by standing tall, but make sure you are physically on the same level as them. Open up your posture, make eye contact at the same height they are at, and attempt to connect. If they stand in frustration, stay seated for just a while to invite them back down to a level place to discuss the situation calmly.
- Overcome the situation by making an executive decision, if possible
Don’t make the customer wade through red tape to find a solution. Even if it is a stretch, take the leadership approach and solve the customer’s dilemma right then and there. Stretching out issues into minutes, hours, days, and weeks when you could have bit the bullet and made them happy immediately with the same compromise, after all, is foolish. Make the hard, empathetic decision (if possible), and chalk it up to making someone happy that you can earn business from again in the future.
It’s best not to have confrontations on the showroom floor or service waiting area. If you have an available office, ask them to follow you to it. Sometimes they feel that moving to a separate location means you are willing to provide them extra attention or a higher level of service. In this instance, you’re trying to offer a moment’s break in the animosity of dialogue, change environments, and recalibrate the discussion. (Mostly, it prevents other customers from being witnesses to a heated scene that could also give them pause.)
- Educate the customer on company policy
Sometimes shoppers demand too much. They feel they deserve more than your organization is willing to provide. If it is against company protocol, do not just tell them “no,” or “I can’t do that,” or “that’s not how we do business”. You need to explain in detail your company’s policy, why it was created, and how it benefits customers. Without a good why, it looks like your policies are only there to anger them and protect you. Explain why that isn’t the case.
- Offer alternatives to assuage the angry customer
Maybe making the deal the way they want isn’t possible. Maybe fixing something that they feel your service department broke when you didn’t isn’t within reason. If that is the case, present as many alternatives as you can to them, and if they balk at all of your suggestions, ask them for other alternatives that would appease them.
- Look to the group
If you have multiple rooftops or service centers, consider referring them to one of your sister stores with a different service writer or salesperson. At the very least, you keep them under the company’s umbrella, and it is an alternative that, while maybe not winning your dealership any profit or points, can at least keep the organization in the good graces of the customer. Just make sure to give the other store a detailed breakdown of who you’re sending their way in advance.
- Offer compensation for their inconvenience
I don’t want to say that we should pay off every single irate customer or that every customer that becomes a heat case or negative review should be offered a gift card, but if you can write off a small amount of financial compensation to an upset customer to your slush fund, and it accommodates them, it may be worth it rather than wasting countless hours overcoming a bad write-up online.
- Attempt to part as friends
I’ve learned it isn’t possible to make everyone happy. Some people are born miserable and do their damnedest to make others the same. Others simply have so much uncertainty about our industry or apprehension from a previous experience that there is no way to win. When you’ve reached that conclusion, apologize again, shake their hand, and ask that you part as friends with the knowledge that you’ve taken every course of action that you can do financially within the company’s policies to make them happy.
- Ask angry shoppers to leave
If a shopper or previous customer is causing a significant enough distraction in the showroom or service department that it becomes insurmountable and negative to other customers’ experiences, it is acceptable to ask them to leave. This is the step to take if all previous steps have been exhausted. Some customers simply need to bark themselves hoarse and let them, provided it isn’t around other customers. If their behavior costs other business, don’t let it happen. Ask them to leave. This step is especially necessary when they discuss contacting their attorney or getting legal.
Don’t take anything personally
There is no one way to solve every heat case. Handling angry customers is an unfortunate part of a sales manager and service manager’s job. You mustn’t take it personally, nor can you jump steps because you feel your authority is being questioned. This is rarely about you. Without customers, we are nothing, so take the 10 steps necessary to find a solution. Showing the shopper that you tried hard goes a long way, even if you don’t make them happy. At least that way, you know you did what you could.