Five Truths About Angry Customers

They are out there. Their voices and frustrations can be heard from your firsthand conversations with them. You have responded to countless e-mails and voicemails from them. You have read their Internet postings. You are aware of their frustrations through your team's perspective. You are measured on them, your compensation is tied into their feedback and they can drastically impact your operation. Who are they? They are angry customers.

Angry customers are becoming more of a daily reality within the car and truck rental industry.

Tighter fleets, lower staffing levels, older vehicles and rental facility construction-all compounded by higher car rental excise taxes-have created an environment of customer hostility and apprehension. Unfortunately, those operational challenges are out of the control of the average management team.

However, understanding some basic truths about angry customers and how to respond to them accordingly can be controlled by any management team. This knowledge will enhance your competitive advantage and will positively impact your bottom line.

1. They are not mad at you, they are mad at a situation.

Many frontline associates and managers take a customer's apprehension personally and feel that the customer's angst is aimed at them. When this happens it makes it very difficult for your frontline team to properly handle the customer's situation. It is critical that when frontline team members encounter an angry customer they ask themselves how they would respond in a similar situation if the roles were reversed.

Identify the most common situations that cause customer service levels to drop and prepare your team for them. In most cases these are: vehicle availability issues, long customer waits at the counter, changes in customer payment and qualification policies as well as vehicle cleanliness and mechanical issues. Providing your frontline team with additional management support at the counter will help your team stay positive and focused on the individual customer's needs.

Suggested technique: Don't allow your team to openly discuss negative customer situations in public areas such as the break room, behind the counters or in common areas of the operation. It is critical that they have an avenue to vent with their respective supervisor or manager but not with their peer group. Remind your team that in most cases angry customers do not return home or go about their busy travel day talking about the individual car rental associate, so they should not overly vent about the angry customers.

2. It is not always about money.

In many cases an inexperienced manager will automatically provide a discount to an upset customer without really knowing what his concern truly is or what he specifically wants. It is critical that frontline associates and managers take the time to listen to their customer before a discount is presented. The majority of customers want to be simply heard before they are "handled."

Suggested technique: When a service situation arises, coach your team to listen to the customer's concern and then respond with the question, "Mr. Smith, what will we have to do to ensure that you will be our customer again?" In many cases the customer will make a request that will cost the operator much less than an automatic discount.

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