There is no avoiding difficult customers. Every business has them and every business owner dreads them. From the one who wants everything done yesterday to the one who is satisfied with nothing (not to mention a few crazies in there), difficult customers can cause undue stress on any business. I handle these situations in the exact same way I handle my 3-yr old. Just remember:
- You cannot change how someone else reacts, only how you react
- Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” so try not to be affronted by client outbursts and insults.
- This is business.
Ok, so I don’t really use that last one on my toddler (too much), but these three sentiments are what I whisper to myself as someone is yelling on the phone, or writing ridiculous accusations about my company or employees.
You cannot change how someone else reacts.
I will be the first to admit that I am a major control freak, but when it comes to dealing with difficult people, I have to take a step back and realize the only control I have is over myself—my reactions, my words, my actions. If a customer is yelling at me or my team, there is no guarantee that saying what I really feel will help, just as there is no guarantee that acquiescence or kowtowing will alleviate the situation.
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Don’t take it personally. I know this is easier said than done, especially if someone is yelling at you, or the complaint is about something dear to your heart (isn’t any small business?). The point is, an angry patron does not have the power to make you feel anything. Only you have that power. So take a deep breath and let any confrontations go.
This is business.
Again, this is business. This isn’t personal. Stick to the issues at hand, even if your difficult customers do not. You need to follow what is best for your business and your team, your mission, ethics, and morals. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.
Dealing with difficult customers is inevitable, but here are a few ways to turn any contrary client interaction into a positive opportunity to improve and even showcase your business.
- Stay calm and listen. No matter how heated the conversation becomes, it is imperative that you stay calm, and above all, listen. No talking over the client, even if you already know exactly what they are going to say and how you want to correct them.Your goal is to (hopefully) save this relationship, so listen carefully and try to understand where they are coming from and why they feel the way they do. There might be more to the situation that what they are describing. And yes, sometimes the client is very, very right. Maybe they could have handled the situation better, but by truly listening, you might learn something about your own businesses.
- Respond as if every customer were watching. I will never forget the day a customer yelled at me in front of literally my entire business—clients, customers, staff, everyone. Whoa. Hell hath no fury like that woman.I remember absolutely everything about that transaction and I’m happy to say that I was the better person. In the weeks following that incident, I had client after client approach me to offer support and generally commend me for how the situation was handled. I’m not mentioning this to point out how awesome I am, but to illustrate that in that terrible moment, I remembered that my goal was to try to keep this client in any way possible, and if it wasn’t possible, then I would need to let that client go and hopefully keep the rest.And when that same irate client spoke of the incident at another facility (as angry people so often do) in the hopes of dissuading others from patronizing my business, it was a mutual client who had witnessed the event that immediately shut her down (very publicly) for me.
- Lower your voice. A screaming match never solved anything. As cathartic as it can be, this never works and will only make you look worse. The louder a customer gets, the calmer and more even toned you should be. If you approach the situation in this manner, often it will temper the customer’s anger anyway.
- Apologize and know when to say when. Why does this one seem so hard sometimes? Sometimes the company is culpable—no one is perfect—but if a customer is being rude and insulting, it is so hard to swallow your pride and just apologize. Even worse is when you are not at fault. How do you apologize for doing everything right?Just remember this is about customer service, not about being right. If it is apparent that this complaint is going to lead to nothing more than a headache and a negative review, take the high road and compromise if you can. Even if the only apology you can muster is, “I’m sorry this happened and you feel that way, I wish I could go back and change xyz…” just make the effort.And if that doesn’t work, try offering them something as a pacifier. A discount on their next service or purchase, free logo merchandise, whatever you feel is fair and doable should suffice.
- Empathize. We all have bad days. As crass as it sounds, I like to imagine that enraged clients are actually suffering from an acute case of hemorrhoids. I’d act that way, too, if that were the case! Try to empathize and make your customer’s experience as pleasant as possible under the circumstances. You would want someone to treat you with respect no matter what, so give your customer the benefit of the doubt.
When it comes to complaints, the best defense is always a good offense so it’s important to train your employees and management in how you want your business systems and these tense situations handled, and at what point you want to step-in and take over. Remember: Every customer interaction is an opportunity for you and/or your team to illustrate the company culture and beliefs.
If you are looking for more resources on dealing with difficult customers, I highly recommend these reads:
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