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Ever Wonder Why Your Customer Gets Irked? Startups Take Note Upset customers have little patience. Annoyances that a person usually tolerates become intolerable when that individual is upset.

By Ashutosh Garg

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While most customers are willing to tolerate reasonable levels of inefficiencies and errors, the old adage comes into play, "To err is human but if the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you are overdoing it"!

Mahatma Gandhi, in a speech in South Africa in 1890 is believed to have said:

"A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider of our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do so."

Your customer is your lifeline. Your reason to exist. Who will buy your product and thus provide sustenance to you and your employees. Yet, so many startups take their customer for granted as they build their young company. Their focus is on technology, on human resources, on making the workplace exciting so that people stay and sometimes on managing cash!

Upset customers have little patience. Annoyances that a person usually tolerates become intolerable when that individual is upset. You cannot control another person's behaviour. But you can change your behaviour to avoid causing annoyance.

Some of the common reasons thatI have seen and experienced which make customers angry and therefore complain or reject your brand are as follows:

Commitments not met

The very common refrain of most customers is that commitments are made by staff members at the time of placing the order and then forgotten. Whether these are in the form of a commitment to deliver a product at a certain time or it is to provide a service at a certain level or it is for the visit of a plumber to your home, a commitment once made must be kept. Most customers are also willing to accept a change in commitmentif a communication has been made to them and, more importantly, the customer has agreed to this change.

If a commitment is kept you have a happy customer. If the commitment is not kept you have a very unhappy and dissatisfied customer.If at this time your staff attempts to give a "smart" answer or offer an insincere apology then the customer is in his right to get really angry and upset.

Any store member, in an attempt to save his own skin, must never pass the buck to his head office or factory since this weakens the perceptions of the brand in front of the customer. Internal issues of a company must be addressed internally and not in front of any customer.

As our retail chain grew, there were several staff members who did not recognize me when I walked into one of our stores. The best way to understand your own staff is to call your company help line and understand what a customer has to go through each time he has a complaint.

Poor Service

Most of us have experienced poor service levels often in various stores. An indifferent store staff can irritate any customer.

Shoe sales men would have definitely tried to entice you to buy a "slightly tight" shoe with a response "When you start using the shoe it will open up" and fit your foot much better". How often have we purchased a tight shirt or coat because the sales staff member did not have a larger size and encouraged us to buy it because "you are sure to lose some weight"!

Arrogance and Sarcasm

If a staff member is arrogant the customer picks up such body language very quickly.Staff members who face your customers are your ambassadors and must have humility. Customers need to be heard and do not like to repeat themselves. If a staff member does not know the customer then being overfriendly or passing a funny comment can also be misunderstood.

Sarcastic remarks only heighten anger, they seldom ease tension.There is no place for one's ego in front of your customer.

Questioning a Customer's Intelligence

I am sure a lot of us would have experienced a situation where we go to a restaurant and ask for a glass of cold water. When the water arrives and we don't find this cold, we tell the waiter to change the water. How often have we seen the waiter touch the glass from the outside to show the customer that in his view the water is cold enough? The same applies when you ask for a cup of hot tea and on complaining the staff member touches the cup to check if you are right!

These are classic examples of a staff member questioning a customer's intelligence and conveying distrust. Anyone in the retail business has to accept a customer's viewpoint as long as the customer is fair and reasonable.

Arguing with a Customer

Arguing with your customer is a cardinal sin for every business. Arguing with a customer may enable a store staff member to win a small battle but in the long run, he would not only have lost the sale but the customer forever.

My advice to most customer facing staff members is that every morning when they leave for work, they should "remove their watch" and leave it on their bedside table and they should "take off their cloak of ego" and hang it behind their bathroom door. There is no place for time or ego when it comes to handling your customer.

People get upset for a variety of reasons, many of which are under your or your organization's control to prevent. The easiest way to calm upset customers is to not make them angry in the first place.At the same time, it is very important to understand that a customer is not always right. If the customer is unreasonable, then a firm but very polite tone is needed to handle such irate customers.

Ashutosh Garg

Chairman, Guardian Pharmacy and Book Author

Ashutosh Garg, an MBA worked for ITC Limited for 17 years, leaving in 1995 as Managing Director of one of the ITC group companies, based in Singapore. Thereafter he spent 8 years in the aerospace industry.He founded Guardian Pharmacy in India in 2003 and grew it to the second largest pharmacy chain in India. He also brought in GNC as a partner to India. He exited from the company he founded in August 2016. 

Ashutosh served as a director of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance for 8 years. He is Chairman of Bizdome, a Startup Incubator of the Indian Institute of Management, Rohtak. He has also served on the Advisory Council of the Centre for Policy Research and continues to serve on the boards of several companies.

He was recognized as a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum, Switzerland. He is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization and is the Chairman elect for YPO Gold, South Asia for the period 2017 - 19.

He has written 5 highly acclaimed best sellers titled “The Buck Stops Here – my journey from manager to entrepreneur”;“The Corner Office"; "Reinvent Reboot Rewire. Managing Retirement in the 21st Century"; "The Buck Stops Here - Learnings of a Startup Entrepreneur" and "An Eye for an Eye".He writes regularly for various online publications like Times of India, Business Insider, Inc., Entrepreneur, The Quint and Big Decisions.

An avid golfer, he plays the Indian flute and enjoys reading and listening to Indian classical and vocal music.

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