Dealing with Difficult Customers

Like the saying goes “The customer is always right”. However, there are times when that might not be the case and, to add to your woes as a customer service representative,

they are likely to be difficult to deal with or even abusive at times. Imagine the following scenario:

John is the owner of a CRM software startup. He is very innovative, open-minded, values his relationship with his staff & customers, and goes beyond his means to make customers happy. One fine morning, an old customer Jake calls him.  John is very happy to hear Jake’s voice. But suddenly, to his utmost surprise, an irate Jake starts to express his displeasure over a software update on the CRM software provided by John’s company, owing to which Jake’s system has crashed and he has lost access to some valuable sales information.

This has led to the loss of a very important business opportunity for Jake. He is shouting, screaming, worked up, and refusing to be reasoned with. Even though John realizes a problem with Jake’s system has led to this malfunction, he feels helpless because he doesn’t want to lose such an old and valuable customer. What should he do? Here are a few points to help you deal with angry and difficult customers:

Be Quick to Apologize

Stay humble and be quick to apologize. It totally disarms the other person, following which he is likely to be open to ways of finding the root cause of the problem. On the other hand, if you lose your cool, the focus changes to who said what and dealing with the problem itself falls by the wayside. That can be dealt with once the problem is out of the way. Also, exchange of harsh words can result in you losing a customer forever.

Listen Carefully and Empathize

Your first reaction to an unhappy client should be to put yourself in his/her shoes. If you have paid for a product or service that has not been delivered as per the timeline you were provided or fails to perform to meet your expectation, it is bound to annoy you. It is also likely to have led to the loss of business for you. It is important for you to keep calm and be in the “customer service mindset.” This means that you free yourself of any thoughts that indicate that you are being blamed for something that isn’t your fault, or that the client himself/herself is to at fault, or that you are receiving unfair criticism.

The key is to develop an interpersonal relationship where the client believes that both of you are on the same page. Listen to your customer carefully and patiently. Express your empathy and regret the inconvenience faced by them. Ask for his/her point of view about how it could have been better. Also, express how you intend to find ways to sort it out for them. After all, all of us are human and prone to making mistakes. Owning up to them, trying to find a solution, and being interested in meeting the expectations of your clients goes a long way in customer relationship management.

Seek help from your Manager

Generally, as a customer service executive, if the matter escalates and the client demands to speak to your manager, it could spell doom for you. However, things can be different if you yourself suggest that he/she speak to your manager. Your manager holds a better position than you and can use this to his advantage to maintain a firm stand. Plus, the customer recognizes the manager as a person in authority. It is likely to be more polite while communicating with him.

Imagine you are being watched by your Other Customers

This will help you stay cool and calm despite being under pressure. The presence of an imaginary audience will automatically calm you down and change your demeanor. This simple shift in your behavior will lead to clearer thinking and better ability to handle the situation. After all, any salesperson wants to impress his clients and conjuring up the imaginary audience when you are face-to-face or on the phone with an irate client helps put you in the mode to achieve top performance.

You're watched by other customers

Express agreement with the Customer even if they are Wrong

Being wrong to be right is another effective strategy. If all your attempts to calm down an irate customer fail, it is best to agree with him even if they are wrong. This unexpected reaction from you will actually make them defend you instead of fighting you. Here’s how:

According to psychologist Sherrie Campbell, “It’s a natural behavioral mechanism that when a person is allowed to win, he/she starts to be more open to what they are fighting against. This strategy helps make difficult customers more open to negotiating because now they feel like the negotiation will be on their terms as they are more in sync with the sales professional’s position.”

Do not take it Personally

A sales professional should remember not to take angry words from irate customers personally. Do not feel threatened as this can make you defensive and, as said earlier, you are likely to deviate from the issue itself. Remember that the customer knows very little about you as a person, and you should keep in mind & ignore any attacks that appear to be personal. Instead, be firm and guide the topic back to the topic at hand.

Another point to remember that anger stems out of fear. Thus, instead of being misdirected by the surface emotion that is anger, it is important for a salesperson to read between the lines. Identify the fear and helplessness in the mind of the customer which stems from the issue itself. Emotions are contagious and this is difficult to achieve. However, a salesperson must train his mind to remain cool and not respond to anger with anger.

Take necessary Action and Follow up

When both of you arrive at a solution, tell your customer how you intend to go about implementing it to fix the problem. Also, ensure that your customer makes a note of your contact details such as your name, email, and contact number. This makes him/her feel in control since they can pull you up. It hold you accountable in case the problem persists.

Once the issue has been resolved, send an email and ask for the feedback. Send a written apology or a gift/discount card for their next purchase.

Hence, with a few strategies, the most important one is staying cool under pressure, one can easily diffuse the situation and pacify a difficult customer just like a parent pacifies a difficult child!

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Jamie Larson