Dealing with Difficult Customers

Dealing with Difficult Customers

06/30/14 James Winston

Although your job description might not say customer service, if you deal with people, you are in customer service. Being mindful of what makes a good customer experience is important when you interact with customers, clients, students, or another demographic that is important to your organization.

It is always nice to interact with individuals that are easy to work with and are not reactive. But that is not always the case. Hopefully you have been professionally trained or have developed the necessary characteristics and skills to deal with these situations. But if not, dealing with difficult customers can be stressful and unsettling if you are not equipped with the support of supervisors or specialized support for difficult situations.

The following are some basic guidelines to help employees deal with difficult customers, as well as, understand how to better deal with their own feelings and thoughts following these incidences.

Your presence is important. It is your responsibility to stay calm and courteous at all times, especially when a difficult customer is being less than calm and courteous.

An apology can go a long way. Apologizing to a customer for the inconvenience and acknowledging their concern upfront can set the tone and make a difference in how the customer may report their experience, as well as, encourage the customer’s cooperation.

Listening is imperative to exploring the problem being presented. It allows you to formulate the appropriate questions and gather the necessary information to help you resolve the issue. Remember: It might be challenging to remain focused, but don’t get too distracted by a person’s emotions so that you can remain focused on rectifying the concern.

Repeat what you hear from the customer to ensure that you understand the customer’s concerns or issues. Being clear about the problem will help prevent further customer frustration and will increase problem-solving time.

Validate the customer’s experience. To validate a customer is to state that you can understand what they are going through or why they would conclude or think a certain way, without necessarily agreeing with them.

Working diligently to identify the problem with the customer creates the foundation for targeting a resolution. Now that you have acknowledged your customer’s concerns, listened attentively, and gathered the appropriate information, it is time to act.

Organize the action steps so that you are goal-oriented and can act expeditiously. If you need to get assistance or expertise from a co-worker or supervisor, do not hesitate. Remember that it is important to keep your customer informed, especially if you have to put them on hold or leave the area.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Greet a customer with a smile and a positive attitude. Never approach a customer in a defensive or argumentative manner.
  • Don’t deny the customer’s perspective and use positive language so that can you can build trust and reassure your customer that you are there to help.
  • Don’t forget that your non-verbal cues are just as important. Mind your tone, affect, and body language – it matters.

Acknowledge your mistakes. If a customer complaint is a mistake you made, own up to the responsibility immediately. Determine who needs to be notified of the mistake or error and report the facts of the error. Do not make excuses and succinctly state how you fixed or repaired the problem. Lastly, communicate to the customer how you will ensure that the error will not occur again and provide any advice that would make their experience better the next time.

Not all behavior should be accepted. Customers who become verbally abusive or intimidating must be informed that the behavior cannot be tolerated. Nonverbal cues and verbal tone are key factors in diffusing abusive customers. Actually lowering your voice in response to someone yelling can often prevent further escalation. Moving the customer to an area of privacy, or off the premises, may be in order.

Seek assistance when needed. Employees who work with difficult customers or experience an intimidating or threatening customer can experience distress. It is important for supervisors to check on employees after they experience an unusual circumstance(s) to make sure that they are ok and to determine if they can return to the same work task or may need a to take a break. Many times, situations with customers can be quite unnerving that a referral to an Employee Assistance Program can help individuals get further suggestions in dealing with their own emotions, dealing with difficult customers, or the aftermath of a threatening situation.

Although difficult customers may be inevitable, you can learn from feedback you receive from all customers. It might identify if you need to provide more training for your employees or review policies and procedures.

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