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Anger Management

How to deal with irate customers without losing your cool

Your grand opening is well underway when a customer starts pitching a fit at the checkout counter. Don't let this person's hysterical ranting scare off the other customers, says Andra Medea, author of Conflict Unraveled: Fixing Problems at Work and in Families. When unruly customers are really worked up, they're not even hearing you, she says. Lower the tone of your voice, take the expression off your face, and place your palms on the desk to project authority. An uncomfortable smile, backing away and using a high-pitched voice will project nervousness and cause the customer to be more aggressive, says Medea.

Take a deep breath, and ask questions. "Get them to construct a sequence for you," says Medea. Avoid words like should--say things like, "I'm here to help." Walking a short distance with a person can also help calm him or her down. Then outline how you'll deal with the problem.

Problems don't only occur in-store. In a service business, when a customer calls and clamors for your attention, Medea suggests that you take a deep breath, take your time, and don't agree to anything too quickly. Put your customer on hold or call him or her back to finalize the details once you've weighed your duties. Finally, fax the customer a confirmation of what you've agreed on to prevent future misunderstandings. Says Medea, "In some ways, you're educating your clients how to work with you and to be civil to you."

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This article was originally published in the April 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Anger Management.

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