Diffusing the Irate Retail Customer – Pool Supplies 101

AFT&C’s CPO Halloween Contest winner Dave Tisch Tischhauser

Do you want to put your customer service skills to the test? Try working Memorial Day weekend in a busy swimming pool supply store. It’s hot, there are lines literally out the door, and everybody is having a party on Saturday!

I was lucky enough to get my start in the industry working in retail pool supplies and I can tell you from first hand experience that in this environment your customer service skills have to be NEXT LEVEL STUFF. There is absolutley nothing like having an irate customer screaming at you from accross the store, knocking over signs, and berating your staff, as sixty other patrons mill about a two-thousand square foot brick and mortar, all because they felt that thirty minutes was too long to wait in a water test line that was just shy of a dozen people/tests deep.

When I ran my store up on Long Island, we actually would train our water test staff to analyze water and prescribe chemical doses with an egg-timer as a part-time employee delivered cold bottled drinking water to those waiting in a line that extended out of the door and onto the sidewalk. With two dedicated water test employees at all times and three minutes per test, the twentieth customer in each line would still facing a sixty minute wait… – Rudy Stankowitz, President/CEO of Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants

I have been out of the retail pool supply game for nearly eighteen years at this point, but I wanted to put together a piece on “diffusing the irate retail customer”. I decided I would reach out to one of my CPO Certification students, Erin Thibodeau of Pace Pool & Spa Service who was awarded Pleatco Filtration’s Outstanding Service Award for her retail customer service skills in Pleatco’s 2016 Nationwide Perfect Pool Guy/Gal Search at the International Pool & Spa show in New Orleans. Erin, who currently serves as the manager of Pace Pool’s Pace, Florida retail pool supply location, reminds us of Berlin EA. & Fowkes WC.’s customer service model LEARN (1983).

This is what Erin had to say:

Erin Thibodeau, Pace Pool & Spa Service

‘Can’t win ‘em all’ is what they say. It is statistically impossible to please every customer that walks through the door. Whether they’re unhappy with the results of a product, are confused by varying opinions, or simply feel mistreated, an unhappy customer can make or break the day. Your response to the situation can affect not only your relationship with that customer but with any others that are witness to the debacle occurring in your storefront.

How exactly do you react to a displeased patron? You L.E.A.R.N.
Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Respond. Negotiate. (Berlin EA. & Fowkes WC. – 1983).

While discussing automatic cleaners with one customer, it struck a chord with another who chose to voice their opinion quite prominently.  “I wouldn’t buy one if I were you. That piece of junk never has worked right. I bought one online a year ago and it hardly moves around or does anything.” I was not going to allow one customer’s bad experience put a damper on that of another. A few key questions and carefully listening to the replies, it was determined that the customer’s online purchase was for a completely different cleaner than the one being currently discussed. “That sounds like a frustrating ordeal,” I said “to spend several hundred dollars on an item and not have it perform as you’d expect. I’m sorry you had that experience. Let me explain the differences in the systems and also the advantages of purchasing through our company versus the internet….”

Compassion Someone who is unhappy or frustrated will more than likely be willing to give you an earful about their situation. Why are they mad? What happened and what steps were taken that procured a less than desirable outcome? What was the expectation and how did we fail to meet it?  We are often too quick to react. Take time to hear what is being said. Listen with intent and let the customer have their moment to spout off.

Compassion goes a long way for someone who is upset or discouraged. “I’m so sorry you’re having a difficult time. It sounds like you’ve been working hard on this issue.” Instead of greeting their anger with hostility, a soft tone and a sense of understanding can quickly diffuse a situation rather than causing it to escalate. Remember, it’s not just this customer, there are onlookers as well. Your goal is to come to a resolution and adding fuel to the fire will get you nowhere fast.

Even though you didn’t make the product, you didn’t personally offend them, or the result of their issue was due to their own negligence or misuse of the merchandise, say you’re sorry.  I am sorry you feel this way. I apologize for the confusing information you received. I feel for you and the frustration you are experiencing. Give them a sense of validation. That their concerns are real and that you do feel bad for having not met the desired outcome, whatever it may be.

Now that you’ve heard the problem, felt compassion for the situation and apologized for your role in the circumstance, it’s problem solving time. What will you do to fix it? Is the customer due a refund? Can you reach out to a manufacturer’s representative to gain clarity on the use of product? Is this a warrantable item?
What are you going to DO about the situation? An active response is required. The customer has come to you with a complaint. You must react to it in a means they find favorable.

Some customers cannot be pleased. Once they have it in their mind that you or a product have done them wrong, even returning any monies spent, an offer of assistance outside the shop and/or an elaborate apology, some folks just aren’t accepting of the circumstances. It’s ok to negotiate the parting of ways. Sometimes a company/customer relationship must end.

The variance here is that you have now supplied every ample possibility to resolve and assuage the situation. Hopefully, the steps you have taken are realized and that relationship is salvaged. Those bystanders have seen your willingness and eagerness to work through a difficult scenario and the extent you have gone to make one customer happy. Even if the end result means one less customer, you have gained the trust and respect of those who witnessed your brilliant customer service tactics.

Handling customers en masse is no easy feat, especially when one among them is quite displeased. In those difficult times, take a moment and L.E.A.R.N. How you handle the circumstances will be far more memorable than the complaint itself. Let your actions speak louder than your words and as the old adage say, “the customer’s always right.”

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