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Who hasn’t had a bad day? I mean come on … we are all human after all. Well today I had one of those days. I had a small kitchen fire about three weeks ago. In that time I’ve been going through the long and incredibly boring and frustrating process of dealing with the insurance company.

Because I have no kitchen right now I’ve had to eat out quite a bit lately. Two different representatives from the insurance company told me to hold on to my receipts when I ate out and they’ll cover the cost of the meals, “within reason”. In other words, they will cover means up to a certain amount per day.

So today I was gathering my receipts from those meals. I was preparing to mail in my meal receipts for reimbursement and I gave my adjuster a quick call before dropping the envelope of receipts in the mail. He explained that reimbursement was actually for 50% of meals and not 100%. While a partial adjustment made sense to me, I clearly recalled two company representatives promising to “cover meals plus sales tax.” I was fine with 50% coverage. I just wanted this whole mess over with and behind me but I do recall very clearly two different people from my insurance company tell me they would cover the cost of my meals so I mentioned it just one more time.

My adjuster became sarcastic and defensive in both his words and overall tone when he said, “No one in this company would have told you we cover 100% of meals because we don’t. We never have. Our policy is to cover 50%.”

Again like I said before I would have been more than happy with the 50% because all of this really has just been exhausting but the guy was really a jerk and I know I’m not wrong on this. Not one but two different people said they would cover all of my meals and the sales tax up to a certain amount per day, per person in my family. I didn’t just imagine this, two completely different times.

So I pulled together my notes, which luckily for me I had written down the names of every person in the company I had spoken with including the dates and times. I wrote up a letter of complaint, including all of my information and who I spoke to on what date and who told me what and when.

Here’s the lesson here: Had the claims adjuster done and said the right things during my initial phone call, the company would have been able to resolve this problem with a simple explanation and apology. Instead, they paid out nearly $423 more than they had to and had to spend 10 minutes listening to my case.  $423 here and $423 there, it can all add up over time and in the end could be costing the company a lot of money that it didn’t need to.  Bottom line is, had the guy not been a rude jerk to me, I wouldn’t have been so motivated to prove my case.

This costly scenario is played out countless times every day throughout the service sector because employees don’t know how to communicate with upset customers with diplomacy and tact and in such a way that creates calm and goodwill.

In my case, had the claims adjuster responded with, “What we were trying to explain is that your policy covers 50% of your meals plus sales tax. You would have been out of expenses for meals even if you had not experienced the regretful fire. We try to minimize your inconvenience during your loss by covering expenses above and beyond your normal meal expenses. Does this make sense? I’m so sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding has caused you.”

This approach certainly made sense and I would have very likely accepted the 50% policy. But instead, the claim adjuster’s attitude incited me and I was determined to accept nothing but full reimbursement. The wrong approach to an already upset customer only makes them more forceful and often results in a much higher payout from the company. I don’t want you to have to pay one dollar more than you absolutely have to and to help you manage costs better I’ll give you 5 things not to do with upset customers.

1. Don’t tell a customer they are wrong. Telling your customer he is wrong arouses opposition and will make the customer want to battle with you. It’s difficult, under even the most benign situations to change people’s minds. So why make your job harder by starting out on the wrong foot.

2. Don’t argue with a customer. You can never win an argument with your customers. Certainly, you can prove your point and even have the last word, you may even be right, but as far as changing your customer’s mind is concerned, you will probably be just as futile as if you were wrong.

3. Don’t speak with authoritative tone as if you have to prove the customer wrong. Even when the customer is wrong, this is not an appropriate response, as it will put the customer on the defense.

4. Don’t say, “We would never do that.” Instead try, “Tell me about that.”

5. Don’t be afraid to apologize. Offer an apology even when the customer is at fault. An apology is not admission of fault. It can be offered to express regret. For example, “I’m so sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding has caused you.”

Never forget in problem situations the issue is not the issue. The way the issue is handled becomes the issue.

In the future the company should probably invest a little more money on training employees in good manners, instead of paying that cash out to pissed off customers.