On my way home from work today, I got slightly annoyed. The taxi that I booked through my taxi app (and paid a higher fee for) got the pickup spot wrong. I saw him speed past me, and figured he mixed up two places that sounded similar. Rushing over to him – a few minutes’ walk – I got into the taxi. After a very brief greeting, I commented that he was supposed to have been somewhere else.
I’m not proud of putting it so bluntly to him; as a communications expert, I’m very aware that anything that remotely resembles an attack will be met with a counterattack.
OK – I’m a communications expert, but I’m also human. I was annoyed.
At first, the taxi driver denied that he had done anything wrong. When I insisted that he should have been somewhere else, he just kept quiet. His response was not ideal, but he’d obviously had some training on how to deal with difficult customers like me.
By the time I arrived home, I was over my frustrations, and I guess the taxi driver was, too (the classical CD he played helped calm us both down). In the end, I got home, taxi uncle had a few more dollars in his pocket, and the misleading pickup address is still in the app, inviting the next interpersonal clash.
As it takes two to tango and, likewise, at least two people to communicate, I spent the rest of the ride reflecting on the effectiveness of the word exchange.
HOW COULD I, AS A CLIENT, HAVE COMMUNICATED MORE EFFECTIVELY?
I could have told him “Uncle (a Singaporean respectful term to address male taxi drivers), there seems to be a mistake in the booking app. I entered an address a block away. Seeing it now, I realise it is easy to confuse it with the place where you were waiting for me. Do you have a way to suggest how your taxi company could correct it?” In other words, I am suggesting a solution and staying clear from personal attacks.
After promising myself that in future, I will try harder to communicate with an effective outcome in mind, I went through different scenarios of more, or less, effective ways of communicating with annoyed clients.
1. WE CAN TURN OUR CLIENTS FROM UPSET TO ANGRY
When clients tell us that something’s wrong, we insist on being right.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re actually right or wrong, reacting to an attack with a counterattack will make clients turn their backs on you. Long-winded arguments, or repeating your point several times, are surefire ways of winding your clients up the wrong way.
2. WE CAN TREAT OUR CLIENTS INDIFFERENTLY
When clients tell us that something’s wrong, we can choose to ignore it and let them talk till they’re done.
Use the principle that they need to let off steam, and put on classical music, like my taxi uncle did, in the hope that they’ll calm down a bit.
3. WE CAN MAKE OUR CLIENTS LOVE US
When clients complain, we can enter into a solution-focussed conversation.
When clients tell you that something’s wrong, turn it into an opportunity to deliver even better solutions.
THERE ARE THREE STEPS TO ACHIEVE THIS:
- Seek to understand – Ask questions such as, “Excuse me ma’am, can you explain to me what happened?” Even though upset, I would have calmed down and told taxi uncle.
- Assist in reducing frustrations – This one is so easy, and yet, most of us don’t do it. Show empathy with your client’s emotions. For instance, “You must have been a bit annoyed, seeing me speed by”. Spot on. Wow, uncle understands me!
- And, of course, deliver a solution – You now understand the issues and your client knows that you have empathy. This is an excellent opportunity to turn your client into a raving fan by solving the problem.
It’s not about the customer being king, or about them being right. Rather, it’s about listening to understand where the pain points are, empathising with your clients, and delivering the solutions they need.
This article was first featured in the Huffington Post.