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dealing with unhappy customers

Material Shortages and Project Delays—Dealing with Unhappy, Difficult Customers

A year ago at the start of the pandemic, no one knew what to expect. What exactly would all of this mean for our businesses when we were forced to close the doors to the public? Who imagined that the kitchen and bath industry would become so insanely, crazy busy as the world shut down every public venue, building, and social gathering place?

However, that’s exactly what happened — ask any colleague in our industry and they will tell you that they are busy…really busy. And that is great! Because this all could easily have gone in the opposite direction. We are very lucky to be in an industry that was not only able to survive, but we were also able to thrive.

Now we are dealing with the skyrocketing lumber prices, which is 3 times more costly than April 2020. The surge in house construction and demand coupled with a fall in production capacity utilization, labor availability, and supply chain challenges have all played a role in the extreme rise in prices. Products from various kitchen and bath suppliers, like cabinetry and appliances, are delayed due to material shortages and supply chain disruptions.

During remodeling projects, homeowners are excited to see their new living spaces. So often, this is their dream kitchen and/or bathroom and they are investing heavily, both emotionally and financially, in this project. They want to see it completed! So, the frustrations that we are all starting to see from customers are understandable, but it’s hard not to get frustrated yourself when you see and hear unreasonable complaints about project delays or pricing increases that are completely out of your control.

Strategically dealing with unhappy customers

Every business has these types of customers. But how should you handle a frustrated, unhappy customer who is less than thrilled about project delays due to current industry conditions?

  • Acknowledge and empathize — Often what a frustrated customer wants to hear is understanding, coming from your voice. Excuses fall on deaf ears and can frustrate them even further. However, acknowledgment of the problem and understanding of their frustration may be appreciated, even if you cannot speed up the lead times from your vendors due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control.
  • Listen, really listen — There is nothing more frustrating from a customer’s perspective than not being heard. When they have concerns or complaints and feel like you are not truly listening and trying to understand the issues at hand, it can be beyond frustrating to them. Listening is an art, and it can be a great tool to understanding your customer and coming up with a result that everyone can be happy with.
  • Attempt to pin down the final result — If your customers see that you are doing everything humanly possible, that is within your control, to fix the situation and bring the project to its completion, this can bring them to some level of understanding that you are doing your best. It may not change their disappointment because they are excited to see their completed remodeling project, but your extra effort can soften the blow.
  • Communicate often — Keep your customers updated at every opportunity. If you can communicate face-to-face, even if that means by Zoom, do it. Or be available to speak to them by phone. Be sure you do not hide from your customers or make them wait for answers. Even bad news is better to be delivered than to keep your customers wondering about the latest update.
  • Be transparent — All of us are customers at one time or another. And we all like to be told the truth, even when it is bad news to be delivered. Simply stated, be truthful and upfront about the latest update on expected product delivery status. Your customers will appreciate transparency.
  • Be patient — Listen to your customers’ concerns and act quickly to try to resolve any issues that can be resolved. Or determine if there is an alternate solution to their problem. If you are able to find an alternative resolution, you can turn dissatisfaction to satisfaction.
  • Lower your voice — Speak slowly, in a low tone with a calm demeanor. Even if your customer gets loud, a calm voice of reason may diffuse their anger.
  • Respond as if you are speaking to an audience – When speaking with a frustrated, unhappy customer, keep in mind they may never be satisfied. They may raise their voice. They may even be rude. Keeping in mind “the customer is always right” (whether or not they are, in fact, right), they may repeat your conversation with them to others, verbatim. Do not give them the ammunition to speak poorly of you. They may never change their mind and end up a satisfied customer, but do not lower your standard of professionalism.
  • Stay calm — Nothing good ever comes from engaging in a fight. Even if the customer is responding in a harsh, ill-mannered way, your chances of resolution are greatly diminished if you respond in an angry manner.
  • Remember that this is business — Do not take it personally. It is business. As unpleasant as a difficult customer is, they are acting out of frustration. They are heavily invested in their remodeling project, financially and emotionally. Repeat to yourself – this is business and not an attack on you personally. This will allow you to think and respond in a non-emotional way, giving you a better chance to be thinking clearly so that you can try to resolve the problems at hand.
  • Summarize next steps — This is again, a chance to be transparent. Your customers will appreciate knowing what is coming next. It is the unknown that forces people to come to their own conclusions, which may be incorrect. This is where unnecessary negativity can enter the picture.
  • “Chunk” the problem — Breaking the problem down into smaller, more manageable portions may be a great way, if possible, to lessen the pain.
  • Explain the steps of solving the problem — If you can show that you have a plan and are taking every possible step to solve the problems of the remodeling project, this can remove the dissatisfaction the client is experiencing, and it can show that you are doing everything in your control to try to solve the problem. This can also show the customer where the source of the problem really resides (with the suppliers and manufacturers who produce the products).

While the pricing, production and supply issues are not expected to be resolved until 2022, as business owners you need to be proactive and try to head off problems before they happen. But in the instances where you cannot head off problems preemptively, be prepared to manage difficult clients. Ultimately, you want a happy customer, and your customers want a great customer experience. How you handle difficult circumstances can make all the difference in the world for your business. Be a smart professional who is customer-centric, and you will find that happy customers will far outweigh unhappy customers. And your business will be better and more profitable as a result.