Saturday, August 6, 2016

2 Things To Keep In Mind When Dealing With Difficult Customers

More often than not, customers can interact and transact with us on a daily basis and all will be completely fine.

Then there are the times, for one reason or another, we have difficult customers.  

Knowing how to handle these situations can hinder or help our ongoing relationship with that customer and ultimately our business.

When I really stop and think about the best way to deal with difficult customers, I think it comes down to two things:



Communication is paramount.  It is the key driver to all relationships.  

A lack of communication can harm, or worse, destroy a relationship, and great communication can build and strengthen a relationship.  

But first of all, let's look at perspective.  

To do this, let me give you an example of what I mean by perspective.

Many moons ago, I lived with one of my best friends.  She is a nurse that works in operating theatres and at the time was the nurse who assisted the anaesthetist

Answering her question of how my day was, I launched into a (no less than) 20 minute rave about how bad my day had been. I can't even remember why it was apparently so ordinary in order to fill you in! At the end of my rant, I returned the question "so, how was your day?" 

Her reply put everything in perspective.  

"We lost a patient today."

The patient had gone in for what should have been a low risk, routine operation, but he had arrested on the table. She and the anaesthetist had worked on him for 45 minutes but could not bring him back.

It rarely happened so when it did, it never failed to rock her boat. Having a patient die and then having to inform their family never gets easy.

That conversation stopped me in my tracks.

I thought I'd had a bad day, but I had not had anyone die. It gave me perspective and I have never forgotten it.

The reason I tell that story is that when I have a difficult customer, I always shoot to that memory...has someone died? Chances are, the answer is no.

I am not diluting the customer's concern. I am keeping it in perspective.

Of course the customer's issue is important and I treat both the customer and the issue with respect.  

Perspective can help you detach from taking it personally. Unless you have done something yourself to upset a customer, the complaint is often not about you directly.  Keep that in mind when dealing with them.

It also helps to keep in mind that you never truly know the full story of what is going on in someone's life: stuff that can heighten their emotional state and possibly magnify their view of the situation they are taking up with you.


This brings me to communication.

By no means am I condoning or excusing a customers' less than desirable behaviour towards you by blaming it on what they have got going on in their lives that you may not know about.  

There is no excuse for bad manners and that goes for bad behaviour too.

It does help you however to be mindful.  It helps keep things in perspective.  Be respectful towards the customer, but detach yourself from allowing their heightened emotions to have more of an impact on you than they should.  

We have all been customers and we have all been upset with the (lack of) service we have received at one time or another.  Our meal took too long to arrive, it wasn't cooked through, we were overcharged, our flight was late, being attended to took way too long, we did not receive the return phone call we were promised, we were disconnected. The list could literally go on and on forever. Sad but true.

Dealing with difficult customers is not something anyone enjoys.

If you have built a relationship with your customers, dealing with an issue or delivering unpleasant news to them is made all the easier.  It may not alleviate all of their frustration or angst over the situation, but they will be less likely to take it out on you because they KNOW you. Though I am the first to acknowledge it can certainly test the strength of the relationship!

My background is in the freight industry. Over the years I have had my share of customers who have not had their freight arrive on time, their freight arrive damaged, their freight did not arrive at all. I am happy to say this was not a regular occurrence but it has happened.

Not knowing how a client will react to you delivering the 'news' you know they don't want to hear can create a little anxiety to say the least!

Empathise.  And, as best you can, manage their expectations. 

This is all done through communication.

These days emails are often considered the way to go because everything is in writing and cannot be mistaken in the 'he said, she said' game.

When a situation has turned sour however, face to face communication - where applicable - or a phone call, instead of or in addition to an email, can do wonders.

Speak in a calm voice, hear what the customer has to say and by that I mean really listen to them.  What you think is important and what the client thinks is important, could be different.  

You will often find that a disgruntled customer simply wants to vent.  So let them.  If this turns to blatant abuse and outrage, firmly but calmly remind them you will not accept that tone or behaviour.  Do not move to that level with them. It can be difficult, but remain calm and in control.

Often, this is not about you personally.  The worst thing you can do is argue back with the customer.  Dealing with a difficult customer is still a form of customer service and arguing is NOT endearing you to ongoing business.

Be mindful of what you say but more importantly HOW you say it.  As I said earlier, empathise.  Acknowledge how and why the situation is not what the client wanted.

Dependent upon circumstances, ask the client how they would like the matter resolved or let the client know how it will be resolved. I am one for exceeding expectations, however now is not the time to over-promise unless you absolutely know you can deliver.  So know your boundaries.

If you have told the client you will get back to them in an hour, make sure it is in an hour.  If you do not have the answer by then, call them and let them know you are still working on it and offer another timeframe to call them back in.  And stick to that timeframe.

This is all part of managing their expectations.  And re-instating credibility with you and/or your company.

When the client knows you are in their corner, the heightened emotional state softens.

A great place to learn about dealing with difficult customers is at the airport.   

Airports are places of peak emotions: from extreme happiness and excitement to sadness, frustration or even anxiety.  

This can make for an interesting time for the staff who work there.  

From the passenger who has missed their flight, is running late for their flight, wants to change their flight to the "don't you know who I am" passenger.  (Yes, they're out there).

Next time you are at an airport, watch the transactions at the check in counters and you will see how dealing with difficult customers is really handled.  When dealing with customers who are often operating at these peak emotions, the staff must be trained masters at negotiating and delivering information in order to keep the customers happy and the airline rolling.

The absolute bottom line is, it is the customer who is really paying our wages so it pays to know how to handle difficult situations when they arise and to keep the customers as someone who continues to support our business.

Do you have an example of handling a difficult customer?  Do you have a situation you'd like to know how to handle or handle differently?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

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