How to Work With Difficult Customers

No matter how hard you try to provide excellent customer service, you will experience unhappy or dissatisfied or just plain difficult customers. It occurs in every business – more often in some.

I don’t think its luck that determines why some businesses experience fewer difficult customers than others. In fact, luck has very little to do with any successful business. Businesses which rarely encounter difficult customers do things differently than those who seem to get many who are hard to please.

How are they different? They remove the hurdles and complications to doing business. They empower their team to handle problems immediately. They hold team members accountable to the standards they have created for great customer service. By doing these things, they eliminate the potential for upsetting many customers. However, even these businesses find themselves facing difficult customers.

Dealing successfully with difficult customers can provide an opportunity to grow both your business and your personal skills.

How can you diffuse someone who is upset or unhappy with your service? By giving them what they want. No, I don’t mean giving into their demands every time, but by allowing them to talk about why they are upset. This is their true desire after they have become upset. They really want someone to hear WHY they are upset. In fact, in most cases their focus shifts from the reason they got upset to telling someone about why they are upset. This is tough. It means you often have to stand in a public place and let someone vent angrily. It means you have to do this WITHOUT defending yourself of making excuses. If you interject a defense, you will not be giving them the thing they want.

How far do you let this rant go? All the way (unless it becomes threatening) – because they must get this out. If they don’t completely vent it to you, they will find several (studies show an average of 10!) friends to vent to. That could be very bad for businesses.

So now you have stood there and listened to them fully vent about how your company has disappointed them. But you are not finished- next you have to validate their concerns. You need to show that you understand what they have just told you. That is the only way they really know you were listening and that you heard them. You do this by repeating their concerns and asking them if what you are repeating is correct. If you have done this is a sincere manner you will have begun to see that that their anger is subsiding and they are much more relaxed. Now you have created the first step in a new relationship- you have demonstrated empathy for their situation. Note here that I am not saying you have necessarily agreed with everything they have said. That isn’t part of the process- what you have done is allowed them to speak without being contradicted and you have proven that you understood what their concerns are. That shows that you have a desire to place yourself in their situation and objectively view their experience. That is being empathetic and that is the first step in creating a relationship.

Once you have created empathy, you are in position to turn a very negative situation into something positive. You have the chance to prove to this customer just how valuable they are to you. Sometimes it is very easy to correct the problem and give the customer what they want. Other times it’s not so easy. That’s where your true ability to create and grow relationships is tested. Understanding the ways relationships are built helps this process. You have already demonstrated empathy; the other part of forming this relationship is creating credibility. This means taking accountability for the situation and providing an outcome that exceeds expectations. That is how great relationships are formed. Someone who was on the verge of leaving your business for good and influencing their friends to do the same is now able to see that this business not only cares about them, but they will go above and beyond to keep them as customers. This new relationship can create a customer who becomes very loyal- one that understands how you view them.

“Wow” solutions often cost you money. Think of it as an ad that you know will pay off-one that will buy business for many years to come and diffuses additional damage. So what if the difficult customer is being unreasonable. What if what they want is totally out of line? If the venting and your display of empathy haven’t allowed them time to adjust the demand, it may be necessary for you to negotiate a more reasonable settlement. If you explain why their demand isn’t something you can satisfy, but you offer an alternative, it will still demonstrate your desire to have a relationship. Better yet, start by asking them to suggest an alternative. It’s amazing how little people will often ask for when they sense you have empathy for their situation and are accountable for their satisfaction.

Rarely, you will encounter a difficult customer who is demanding something totally unreasonable and refuses to accept an alternative solution. By rarely, I mean these should come along once or twice in your professional life. It could be that you determine that this customer is too costly to have a relationship with. When this happens, you will have to tell them that you are unable to satisfy them. This message is one that should be used only as a very last resort because here no one wins.

New types of customer problems have been surfacing in this internet age. Today, a customer can go on line and tell the world about how bad they think your business is. This is very difficult to deal with since you probably didn’t even get a chance to correct their disappointment. One day you wake up and there it is for the world to see. How do we cope with these new methods of customer complaints?

First, don’t allow the threat of this happening to keep you from participating in Facebook and all the other channels of interacting with customers available today. But be aware that the damage you can suffer due to the ability to broadcast anything to the world at any time is real. That makes it more important than ever to create a customer experience that meets and exceeds expectations. It becomes vital to empower your team to correct problems before they become viral. In addition, follow internet postings that mention your company name. You can create this in Google and have an email sent to you every time your company name is posted. If someone does post something negative about you, try and use your POS system to get their phone number so you can call them. If they are not in your database, post your desire to have them call you. Join the conversation online with the solution and an apology if it is warranted. Joining into the conversation shows your desire to keep good relationships and it gives you a forum to announce how you satisfied this customer.

Dealing with difficult customers is one of the hardest parts of business. It is also something that happens in every business. Try and view these situations as opportunities to improve the company, grow relationships and turn negative feedback into positive results. It can be a real opportunity to grow business and your personal skills.

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