My friend is going through a rough patch. She’s a working mom, overwhelmed with caring for her young twin boys. Her husband travels extensively for his job and isn’t around much to help. When we get together, she often will express a concern or a problem she has with the boys.
“I can’t go to a store without one of them throwing a full-on, writhing-on-the-floor, screaming tantrum if I don’t buy him a toy,” she recently complained. “I honestly have no idea how to deal with it.”
In an effort to be helpful, I offered a possible solution based on my own experience. Before going out, I lay out the ground rules with my 5-year-old son: You can look, but we won’t be buying any toys today. And if you fuss, we’ll have to go home.
A very simple and effective solution, one she could easily implement, I thought.
“Yes,” she nodded. “But …” And she proceeded, as she has with most of my suggestions, to list all of the reasons why it wouldn’t work for her.
Psychologists dub this behavior “help-rejecting complaining.” Despite its pejorative description, it's something that we all do from time to time. Instead of being a true call for action, it’s a call for support. I’ve come to realize that my friend isn’t looking for solutions. What she really needs is sympathy, a validation of her efforts.
Similarly, when faced with an irate customer with an ax to grind, many businesses are too quick to throw solutions at the individual in a frantic effort to appease. Instead, first take the time to listen — without interruption. Then, when you’ve truly heard their complaint, repeat it back to them. For example, “It sounds like the ride closures in the waterpark have been frustrating. I completely understand: You came here to enjoy the attractions; who wouldn’t be upset?”
Next, apologize. If the patron is completely wrong, you can apologize without admitting any culpability on your part. For example, “I’m sorry you’re not pleased with our service. We pride ourselves on making customers happy and I want to work with you until we get this figured out.”
Only then should a solution be offered.
This validation serves as vital prepwork to turning a negative situation into an opportunity to strengthen customer loyalty. A customer who feels understood is one who’s more likely to be receptive to your solution and, ultimately, to your business.