Understanding and dealing with difficult customers

All businesses, whether retail or a software firm, deal with difficult customers. These customers can be one of the worst things about a job. However, there are some key ways to speak with angered customers, defend yourself against allegations, and even, hopefully, keep the person as a customer.

Sympathize and empathize

Angry customers, even the meanest and most abusive ones, have a reason why they’re angry. Whether they feel your company has not fixed a problem in a timely manner, or whether their anger has nothing to do with your company or staff, it is important to simply be nice to customers.

Being kind accomplishes two things: it makes it harder for a customer to continue to be abrasive or abusive to you if you are nice to them, but it also can give you valuable information as to why the customer is unhappy.

Your focus should always be on trying to solve whatever problem the customer has, and make sure they know it, too. Most customers will be grateful for the amount of effort you put into trying to solve their problem, even if you cannot offer a solution in the end.

Don’t take their anger personally either, even if they are directing insults at you. Their anger may not have anything to do with you; perhaps their parent is in the hospital or they just lost their job.

Be nice and sympathize, even if they yell and storm out the door. Perhaps the customer will even come back and apologize.

Be prepared to defend your business

Being prepared to defend your business’ actions is especially helpful in dealing with negative comments and reviews left on the Internet, particularly to agencies like the Better Business Bureau. In any customer service role, it is pertinent to document all customer interaction. That way you have information such as the dates when contact was made and what actions were taken. Case management software can be instrumental in helping your staff keep track of customer interactions, but even a call log kept in a spreadsheet or notebook can be sufficient.

You might choose not to give the customer what he or she wants if you can prove that you upheld your end of an agreement. If other existing or potential customers then see the review and your carefully thought-out reply, they will be more likely to see that prior review as an unfounded complaint. If, upon checking your records, your staff made an error sometime during the process, you can apologize and offer the customer a refund. Tactfully admitting you were wrong still puts you in a positive light in the eyes of potential and existing customers. Responding to complaints is key in continuing to make sure your business has a good Better Business Bureau rating.

Take customer complaints to heart

Never just ignore a customer complaint or write it off as ridiculous. Even the most “out there” complaints generally have a grain of constructive advice in them. The heart of your customer’s complaint might be that communication with your company is lacking, or that one of your staff was rude. These might be real problems that need to be addressed, even if you weren’t aware they existed before. Make an effort to fix them, and your customer will be grateful, as will future customers. You should always be looking to improve your business and the services or products you offer.

If all else fails, do not be too afraid to let a bad customer walk away. This is especially true if you have plenty of other business, but even if you don’t, sometimes it’s just not worth trying to please someone who will never be pleased. Your staff will be happier for it and can focus their energies on helping other customers, rather than continue to try and salvage a relationship that is simply beyond mending.

Robert Cordray
Robert Cordray
Robert Cordray is a former business consultant and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience and a wide variety of knowledge in multiple areas of the industry. He currently resides in the Southern California area and spends his time helping consumers and business owners alike try to be successful. When he’s not reading or writing, he’s most likely with his beautiful wife and three children.

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