The Sky Is Falling!

The following article was written my PromoKitchen Chef Marshall Atkinson, COO of Visual Impressions in Milwaukee, WI.  He writes a blog and publishes posts weekly. Check it our here.

The Sky is Falling!  Chicken Little is on line one, and he’s none too pleased right now. That order you did for him got messed up along the way somewhere, and ol’ CL is primed and ready to rip your head off. Are you ready to take this call? Better yet, do you know how to handle his frustration? I don’t think anyone likes to be on the receiving end of calls like this. Inevitably though, if you do enough business something is going to go wrong somewhere with something. Statistically it is true. Nobody is perfect. Sometimes it isn’t even your fault. But it’s in your lap, and Chicken Little is still on hold.

So what should you do?

Let’s review some tips that will not only put Chicken Little in a better mood, but he might still be your customer when this is all over.

Don’t panic. Regardless of how animated Chicken Little gets, your job is to remain calm and collected. If you start playing into his game and talking about how the sky is falling, and defending what seems to have happened, you are doomed. Nobody can yell forever, even if it seems like it at the time. Keep calm and carry on. (whoops did just I write that?)

Don’t take it personally. In a business situation, what Chicken Little is really doing is expressing his fear. Fear that he’s going to look bad. Fear that he’s going to lose his best account. Fear that what happened will embarrass him. Fear that he might even lose his job. All that bluster and bluff spewing out over the phone is just his fear in an audible form. It’s not about you. Don’t feed into Chicken Little’s fear tornado. You need to listen. Absolutely take notes. Look up the order. Read all the e­mails from a month ago. Get all the facts that you can. Chicken Little is going to vent, and he’s telling you what his fear is somewhere in that diatribe. In doing so he’s giving you the answer that will allow you to help get him through this situation. If you are too busy defending the circumstances or making excuses, you won’t be listening to him. There is a reason you have two ears and one mouth. You need to listen twice as much as you speak.

The verbal queue for you to talk is usually when you hear, “...and what are you going to do about it?” Use your notes and repeat back to him exactly what he just told you. Then ask, “do I have this right?” By doing so you are showing empathy and that you have listened to what he very angrily expressed to you. You need to sympathize with him. “Yes, I can understand how the sky is falling would make you upset.” Relate to him how you feel. That problem shouldn’t have happened. Not arguing with Chicken Little and sincerely expressing that you are sympathetic to his cause will deflate the situation and lower the tension. The reason he was yelling originally is that most people don’t encounter sympathy or empathy in crisis situations like this. That’s why the volume goes up, as the human reaction is to talk louder to be heard. Once Chicken Little understands that you are listening and comprehending the situation, the verbal tone will change back to normal levels. You need to apologize EVEN IF IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You want Chicken Little to keep coming back as a customer right? “I’m very sorry Mr. Little that there’s been a problem. Let’s see what we can do to resolve the challenge.”  This action will get him on your side even more, and he’ll look forward to your resolution. Notice that you aren’t making excuses or defending whatever caused the problem. You aren’t promising anything either.

Resolve the situation. If your company screwed up the order, fix it. A lot of companies try to weasel out of responsibilities when something dreadful happens. Don’t be them.  Admit your mistakes and make things right. This will go a long way and separate you from other companies. Your goal is to find out what will make Chicken Little happy again. If you can do something yourself, like place a reorder and ship it to him, then do so. Maybe you’ll need to do some research or talk to other people before you can help. If so, let him know that and give him a time-frame on when you are going to get back to him. Be conservative. Your goal of course is to beat the clock. If you said thirty minutes, call back in fifteen.  However, maybe there’s nothing you can do for Chicken Little. Some customers will ask for the unreasonable just to overplay their hand as they know they have leverage.

Get a second opinion. Before negotiating a resolution to a challenge, I like to get another person’s opinion sometimes. This is helpful, especially if they have worked on the Chicken Little account before, or have had similar experiences. Discussing the situation with someone else can help you sort through what you want to say, and even explaining what happened sometimes dislodges an idea on what to do.

We’ve all dealt with businesses that don’t handle things the right way. You know what I’m talking about. Actions speak louder than words. Chicken Little will keep coming back as a customer if you can prove to him that the sky isn’t falling and his fears are unfounded. It's your actions will prove it to him. Do what you say and a few days later make sure you follow back up with him. Was your resolution helpful? Did you prove that they sky wasn’t falling after all, and that everything is back to normal? Is he happy? If you did what you said you were going to do, he should be!