Let’s face it, sometimes, customers aren’t exactly an easy bunch. Some people will enter your business or log onto your website and struggle despite your best efforts to guide them in the right direction. These customers can get flustered, frustrated, burdensome, or just downright mean when things aren’t going their way.
From a business perspective, managing difficult customers with respect and poise is in your best interest. This keeps your brand image in good standing, so that prospective customers still see you as a viable option. Treat customers poorly, and you’ll get reviews bombed into a rapid profit decline.
Certainly, there are circumstances where customers should be shown the door, such as in cases of racism and outright abuse. However, your run-of-the-mill Monday morning grump deserves a little more tender love and care before you give up on them. Here are some ways your business can deal with those types of customers more effectively:
1. Active Listening
One of the most important soft skills you can learn and teach to your team is active listening. When it comes to customer service, this is often one of the best things you can practice. Active listening can help you quickly assess and diffuse even the most difficult of customer interactions.
There are a few key components that turn listening into active listening. First, try not to think of your next response until after the customer has finished speaking. This way, you’re less likely to interrupt them while they are speaking or missing key information. When it’s your turn to speak, repeat that information to them to confirm that you are listening and understanding.
Active listening includes asking questions, maintaining eye contact, and reading body language. This requires a lot more focus and attention than a lot of people are willing to give, especially when the customer is being a challenge. However, that focus will pay off when your active listening turns a difficult customer into a life-long client.
2. Be Apologetic
When a customer approaches you with a problem or complaint, they aren’t looking for excuses. More than anything, they are looking to be heard and validated. If your first thought is to say you’re sorry for the situation, customers will respond more positively. Tensions can get high rapidly if you get defensive right from the start.
Active listening will help here. Use the information you’re given from the customer to make a proper apology. Even if the customer is the one to blame, an apology can defuse an otherwise sticky situation. You might have to swallow your pride a little, but no one said running a business was easy.
The challenging part of an apology is sounding sincere. Customers can often detect sarcasm or an apology that sounds like it was written by artificial intelligence. Being genuine is easiest when you care about the customer and your business. Try to find ways to instill that in your customer service employees by treating them well and selling them on your company vision.
3. Have a Solution Ready
If you operate a business, you have to be prepared for every possible scenario. This includes dealing with disgruntled customers in every shape and form. Even if you’ve set up every possible safety precaution to avoid inconveniencing your clientele, accidents and errors are bound to happen. Being prepared for when they do, will stop fires from getting out of control.
Think about the most common situations that might cause a customer to become annoyed or angry. This could be a delayed delivery order, an overcharge on an account, or an appointment starting late. If you know these are possibilities, think about what solutions you can have in the chamber for when something inevitably goes south.
There are examples of company policies that you can look toward for inspiration. This could be anything from removing shipping charges on a delayed order to a 100% money-back guarantee if service is deemed unacceptable. If you have these solutions prepared, they’re readily available when needed.
4. Personalize the Experience
One way to make your apologies and solutions more effective is to make them more personal. Each customer will have a unique personality and complaint, so it only makes sense to address each case on an individual basis. Customers will take note of the extra measures you take, and can be taken care of more effectively.
Besides, customers can tell when your responses seem automated. Try not to read from a script when talking to them. Fall back on your active listening skills to combine the perfect services to help them overcome their setback.
Of course, you can put only so much variation into apologies and customer solutions. What’s important is remembering that every customer is a human being, not just a business statistic. Each person deserves a level of respect, even if they’re not showing you the same at the start. It may take some time for the customer to notice the attention to detail you’re showing them, but eventually, you’ll see your efforts begin to pay off.
5. Know When to Step Back
Some customers will be too difficult to deal with at the present moment. As mentioned before, some cases need to be pushed aside. When a customer is being completely unreasonable, or out of line, it is completely within your authority to refuse them service and move on.
Set some boundaries for you and your customer service team. You’ll know when to step away from customer interaction when these boundaries are crossed. This can include but not be limited to endless rants with no negotiation, verbal threats, and excessive cursing. You should not expect yourself or your team to endure such treatment just for the sake of business.
Before hanging up or sending a customer away, try to talk them down first. Inform them that if they continue their behavior, you’ll be required to cease communications with them. That way, it won’t seem like you’re just ignoring them or giving them the cold shoulder and instead disengaging yourself from a potential argument.
Still — if you are better prepared for abusive customers — the effect will not be so hard on you. Remember, their bad behavior has nothing to do with you — it is them. Think about what Nando Pelusi, Ph.D., suggests:
“To cope with a difficult person, you need to learn to question your automatic defensive philosophies, such as “I will not be treated that way; I won’t let you get away with this” and “My reputation is on the line if I fail.”
Resisting the trap set by difficult people is easier if you’re aware of your vulnerability to getting hurt and then feeling angry. That tendency is a vestige of Neanderthink, because there was a time when your status was more closely linked to life or death than it is today.
Better to check your fight, flight, or freeze reactions and refuse to be a part of a duel in which you’re an inadvertent participant. Sure, you need to stand up for yourself, but do so without demanding that you be above criticism at all costs. Remind yourself of your long-range goals: saving time, energy, hassle, and maybe even your own hide.” –Nando Pelusi Ph.D
6. Answer Promptly
Not all of your customers will be difficult in person or over the phone. Many of them will hide behind their screens when creating their complaints. This is sometimes done to boost their confidence or to think about what exactly they want to say before sending a message. Knowing how to deal with difficult emails and direct messages is important for your business to understand.
The most important thing you can do here is answer promptly. You don’t need to have all of the answers and solutions right away. The longer you wait to respond, the more agitated a customer can become. Even a short answer letting them know that you’ve seen the message and are working on a proper response is better than leaving them on read.
A preliminary message like this also gives you more time to think about how you want to respond. The great thing about online communication is that you can draft a response as often as you need. You can take the time to make sure you’re communicating well, as long as you don’t take a full week to send your response ultimately.
Difficult customers are simply a fact of life for business owners and customer service representatives. While dealing with these types of consumers will never be fun, you can improve the experience for both parties by improving your skills and understanding the whole process.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Liza Summer; Pexels; Thank you!