Keep Your Cool

As SMALL-BUSINESS owners we’ve learned that some customers can try our patience.  They may be late or not show up, fail to pay their bill on time, want more and more for less, get rude, be snappy or demanding.

Large companies may be able to write off folks without concern, but usually a small business needs and wants to keep customers happy even when they don’t put their best foot forward.  We can’t let them take advantage of us of course, but we can’t afford to blow our stacks ream them out, tell them off, demean them or otherwise lose their tempers.  We have to keep our cool, no matter how we feel.

Since that is clearly not always easy in the heat of the moment, here are some tricks of the trade.

Know your Triggers.  Knowing your hot buttons can help you be prepared to respond .  Among the most common triggers; behaviors that is (a) unexpected and out of the blue; (b) clearly the customer’s fault, not yours; and/or unfair.

Wait to respond.  When your hackles rise, postpone your response,  If the behavior is something you need to talk about with the customer, to be sure it doesn’t happen again contact the person after you have cooled down.

Be clear on your desired outcome.  Use and “I message.”  For example, instead of saying, “You are always late for your appointments,” you might say, “When you are late for your appointments, I get behind for the rest of the day and it upsets my other clients.”

Be specific.  What behavior do you want the customer to change in the future?  Instead of “Please do better,” or “Don’t do that again, please,” ask for specific actions, such as “Would you be able to be on time from now on?”

Listen carefully.   If the customer is having problems that cause the undesirable behavior, don’t write off explanations simply as excuses.  It may be possible to change your arrangements in ways that will prevent such behavior.  You may want to accept that the person is having a bad day or has had a bad life.  His or her behavior might have been irksome, but not intolerable,  we’re all human, after all.

Say sorry.  Should you slip and lose your cool, apologize.  Doctors who apologize are sued less frequently than doctors who don’t apologize.  Keeping your cool and using their guidelines work.  You will feel better when you handle things better, and if your customers like you even when they’re not at their best, they will stick with you.


Used with permission from Costco Connection and Paul and Sarah Edwards.


Examples from a  medical office where customer service wasn’t the norm:

We worked in a medical office where the doctor was very very short tempered.  The staff had had numerous turnover and only the thick skinned survived.  2 days into our project a client walked in the door about 15 minutes late.  Mind you the staff called the clients all early in the morning (6:30-8:00 am) to remind the patients not to be late.  This was an everyday occurrence. Client walks in and the doctor happens to hear the staff quietly tell her she was late.  For the next 4 minutes the doctor unloaded on this patient, and soon to be X-patient.  The lobby was full of people and when the doctor had her say she walked into the next exam room and carried on.  At this point I was stunned.  The doctor put together some four letter phrases that not even I had heard of.  Meanwhile the client stormed out, slammed the door and the lobby was terrified.  I quickly headed out the door and caught the elevator down to the garage and caught the patient.  She was fuming and teary eyed.  I explained that we were working with this office as consultants and apologized for the doctors behavior.  I listened for about 10 minutes while this client unloaded.  In the end she opened up her purse and showed me $8000 dollars, cash.  She had saved up this money and would have gladly handled it over to the office that day for her procedure.  But it was too late.  Once again I apologized to her and she was on her way.

After work hours I met with the doctor and told her my experience with this particular patient.  The doctor was pretty upset that she unloaded on this lady and called her personally after hours to apoligize.  Too little too late at that point.

The doctor should have let the staff handle this matter, rescheduled the client or made other arrangements.  It cost the doctor that day $8000.  But in the end it probably cost this office much much more due to poor word of mouth referrals.


Steven Hume

Hume Management & Consulting




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