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Angry Much?

I have my good share of pleasure interacting with and managing angry customers, whether they are internal or external.   Internal customers often deviate from the original purpose of the meeting and instead ramble on and on about matters, people, process or projects that are probably not even under my jurisdiction.  Of course, there are also instances where it was indeed my team’s fault.  I have heard name calling, have seen dismissal faces and also forwarded complaints from country heads sent to them directly from pissed off department heads. 

Procurement after all is a service function.  We don’t get to be as authoritative as HR or Finance or Legal where users are in general feared or at least respected.  Instead, we get blamed, scolded and yelled at for a job that everyone thinks is crap.  We do know a thing or two about handling angry people.

Externally, a client might have been badly burnt by an ex-colleague, or sometimes it’s just a result of bad human chemistry.  Some client teams could also get really offended when we were obliged to recommend or report process or behavioral improvements to client management.  Regardless of the situation, there is no other way but to tough it up and handle the situation face-to-face, man-to-man.

This is probably the worst job of all having to sit in a meeting where you know what the outcome is, no matter how you act and behave.  However this is also an opportunity to shine if you come out in one piece while retaining dignity of yourself as well as your organization or company.  Think about it, do you have one or two names popped up to your head whenever you need to assign someone from your team to handle a messy situation?  I bet there are, and sometimes in today’s virtual working environment, he or she may not necessarily be the appropriate ranking officer, meaning there is no ONE person that is really responsible for the matter at hand to make the obvious choice.  Why do you pick these few people?  What are their common traits?  What are they good at?  Why don’t you pick others?  What are they bad at?  If you are an experienced leader, it will not be difficult to identify the best ways in dealing with angry customers simply by answering the above questions.

1. Do Your Homework

You need to know what the objective of the meeting is.  Are you asked to go in to explain yourself, or are you asked to offer a solution or a fix?  Who will be present at the meeting and what decision-making power do they each have?  Who are you supposed to be, or what role would you take up in this whole mess?  What is the situation in detail?  If it’s not your personal case then make sure you speak with those involved in your team beforehand to get all the facts straight.  If you need to make an offer, get the advance approval beforehand.  Always go prepared.  Nothing is more infuriating to the customer if they are in front of an ignorant messenger who isn’t even prepared in the first place.

2. Be A Good Listener

The meeting is there for the customer to talk and vent their frustration.  Even if you don’t agree with them, listen well with the occasional smile and nod.  Project sympathy.  Hear it from their angle.  Try to gauge what their objectives and personalities are.  Don’t inject your comments until the client is finished.  The situation will usually turn more calm and objective once the customers have the opportunity to get everything off their chest.

3. Be On Their Side

When you are ready to offer solutions, make sure they are in tune with what the customers want.  Do they want exceptional approval?  Do they want speed and flexibility?  Do they want one voice accountability rather than bureaucracy?  What drives their behavior?  If you know that your clients feel insulted by your process, any approach that will help them regain their credibility and glory in front of their bosses will be well received. 

4.  Actions Speak Louder

Needless to say, all angry customers will remain skeptic for a fairly long period of time.  You may be able to calm them down a bit at the meeting, but you can expect to be watched intensely for the next few months at least.  Let your actions do the work.  Make sure you live up to what you have promised, and make sure your other team mates support you in the process.  Let your boss speak with them at a later time to manage progress, before something gets to boil up to another potential fiasco.

5. Don’t Speak Ill of the Organization / Company

A very tempting tactic by many is to be so sympathetic with the customers that the individual begins to criticize his own organization/team/company openly.  That is not smart.  You will be perceived as someone who knows about the problems but do not have the guts or the power to do anything about them.  Then why would the customers want to trust you now?  Placing the blame on your bosses or team mates or management is petty, unprofessional and childish.  You will be surprised how soon words can spread, and I can assure you that these individuals will soon be deserted by both customers as well as their bosses.

An all time asset to organizations around the globe is having the ability to turnaround difficult or angry customers and bring everyone back to the table to move forward.  Don’t take this too lightly.  You don’t get to dismiss complaints as isolated cases too many time.

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