Whenever you’re dealing with a dissatisfied customer, it can feel like there are a million things that can go wrong. We’ve heard people refer to it as trying to juggle chainsaws while tightrope walking. For customer service managers in companies or industries where there are a lot of irate customers, there’s a constant challenge of trying to find and keep people who can do this tightrope juggling, because they rightly recognize that being able to effectively calm angry customers and create positive resolution is an incredibly valuable skill.

Without taking away anything from the great work that is done by these super-service representatives, we’ve found that this characterization is only half right. Yes, you can solve the problem by having high hiring standards and finding people who can naturally find the balance between giving the customers what they need and staying within the bounds of corporate policy. But it’s an inefficient approach that relies on stumbling upon the best candidates during the hiring process and praying that they stick around.

Alternately, you can solve the problem by recognizing and taking action on a simple, universal truth: There are a finite number of reasonable complaints or issues that your staff will ever face, and you can prepare them for these encounters before they happen.

Don’t Worry About the Alien Invasion

My mentor Alan Weiss uses a wonderful example to drive this point home for salespeople: “You will absolutely be talking to people who tell you that your price is too high. They will tell you that they don’t have time to meet with you or don’t have time to implement the strategies you suggest. They will tell you that they love everything you’ve said, but they don’t have the budget. They will tell you that they tried something similar once and it failed, and they will question why your method will be any better.”

If your salespeople are not ready to answer these questions, then you are being negligent, and you deserve to lose the business. It’s harsh but true. There are really only a handful of things a client can say and a finite number of objections your people can hear. They had better be ready for them.

A salesperson will never talk to somebody who tells them they’d love to do business with them but they can’t, because they’re going to be beamed up to the alien mothership at 7:45 tomorrow morning, and so they can’t make any financial commitments. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the feeling that there are an infinite number of situations that a salesperson could be confronted with and that it’s impossible to prepare, so the only hope we have is to find people who are immensely adaptable and naturally talented.

Many times, I’ve worked with sales, service and other customer-facing teams, and they said, “What if? What if the customer said this? What if the customer said that? What if the customer did this?” This is certainly a solution to the challenges of dealing with dissatisfied and angry customers, but it is not the only solution. In fact, I propose that it’s actually a sub-optimal solution. Instead, identify the most common issues that are disappointing your customers, and create a corporate culture that prioritizes minimizing these issues and trains all frontline staff to effectively manage them when they arise.

The short version is this: If the senior leadership team of your company doesn’t know what the most common issues faced by the frontline staff are, they are in a bad spot. If they don’t know how to find that information (or, worse, know that they cannot find or collect it), then they are in an even worse spot.

By prioritizing first the acquisition of this information and then regular training and coaching for all customer-facing staff to handle the most common issues, companies can dramatically improve their relationships with their customers.