How to Wisely Deal With Difficult Customers?

By Femto15 Team - September 26, 2019

Whichever your business is, you will have difficult customers who you MUST handle wisely and professionally to keep your relationship and protect your business reputation. Whether the customer is right or wrong, you have to make things right.

In this article, we cover the topic from different aspects:

The customer service rep mind mode [Prepare yourself]

Everything starts from you; your thoughts, mode, and knowledge will be reflected in all the actions you take, the words you use, your tone of voice, your facial expressions, etc.

Below are some tips to prepare your mind for any difficult customer. 

1.  Put yourself in your customers' shoes

The difficult customer maybe your granny, father, friend, or even yourself. Most of us have given a customer support rep bad days once in a while. That's why the first thing to do is putting yourself in your customers' shoes to be able to empathize with them without any hard feelings.

Whether their reasons are rational or not, try to imagine that you or one of your friends is the other side, and remember that all of us has bad days.

2.  Don't take it personally

"It's not personal, it's just business"

It's not about you; they don't blame you for their problems; you just represent the business they have a problem with. Always remember that you are the "representative" of your business and act according to that.

But if a customer targets a specific representative and abuses him/her, it should be considered a dead-end situation where serious actions are taken.

3.  Arm yourself with knowledge

Knowledge is power.

Angry customers normally will get more frustrated if they feel you don't have enough knowledge or you don't understand the situation.

To avoid being tense, unsure, or stuttering; make sure you have deep knowledge about your product/service, contracts' conditions, business policy, FAQs, and also the customer's history such as customer state and previous complains.

For newbies or anyone who is asked an unknown question:

  1. Don't worry; you will gain enough knowledge over time. We all keep learning.
  2. Make sure there is a specific workflow that determines what to do and who to ask when there is info you don't know.
  3. Don't say "I don't know"! That's not the right response to the situation, rather rephrase the question to the customer and let them know you are checking the answer.

4.  Keep calm and carry on

Keep calm and carry on!

"You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you."

Dan Millman

Keeping calm under the pressure of dealing with angry, impatient, rude, or any difficult customer; is one of the main skills for any customer service rep. Remember that you cannot control anyone but yourself.

How to handle the situation? [Effective tips]

There are different techniques and tips to handle difficult customers according to customer's type and problem's kind. Let's sum up the most common and effective ones below.

1.  Listen actively

Listen actively!

Active listening means to concentrate, understand, and then respond to what you've heard. Don't think of the respond while listening; just listen. You can then rephrase the problem clearly to avoid any misunderstanding.

In short, be all ears!

But there are types of customers who need to be interrupted while talking, such as:

-    Talkative customers: if they go off on a tangent, you can politely stop them and ask them to specify the problem so you can help.

-    Rude customers: each company must protect their reps from getting abused or insulted by customers and set rules to when should the rep stop the customer.

-    "Everything is wrong! Nothing works!" customers: try to calm them down and guide them to a way of describing the problem by giving examples or asking questions.

2.  Empathize sincerely

Empathy map.

"Hmmm" is not the proper response to show empathy. You have to show you understand the customer's problem, and you would feel the same if you faced it.

Empathizing is your way to absorb customer's anger and clear his/her mind to accept further steps.

3.  Take an action

Fix it now!

Whether that action is fixing the issue immediately, transfer the customer to another section, passing it to a higher authority, or taking various steps to solve it; make sure the customer knows, understands, and accepts the solution you will provide.

4. Go the extra mile

It's known that difficult customers can turn over to be your most loyal customers. But that can't be done without fixing their issues.

For better results, make it up to them. Which means you should go the extra mile and do more than just fixing the issue. That mile may be as simple as contacting them afterward asking about how are things going, sending an apology card, sending a thank you message for the feedback they gave you or more important stuff like a discount.

5.  Document the issue

After each difficult situation comes proper documentation. Documentation helps you learn, analyze, and asses these situations to deal better with them in the future or prevent it.

You also got to track these issues and find out the back door where they came from to solve the source of it.

6.  Use positive language

Avoid negative language that sends negative feelings to customers. Negative phrases such as:

-    "I don't know."

-    "We don't provide this service."

Shouldn't be used; instead, you can say: 

-    "You are asking about X service? Let me find that out for you."

-    "I'd be happy to fulfill your request, but I'm afraid this service is out of our business scope. If you would like, I can suggest similar services that we do provide."

7.  Package your service

Closing the conversation is just like gift packaging. How you end with customers is as important as how you start with them. Make sure that:

  • They said all their problems.
  • They don't have further complains nor feedbacks.
  • They agreed upon the solution you provided.

Finally, ask them if there is anything else you can help with.

What to do when you reach a dead-end?

Not all difficult customers are bad customers. Bad customers are those who you may give up on.  In this section, we'll tell you how to deal with them and when to know you have reached a dead end with a certain customer.

1.  Protect your values, dignity, and ethics

Bad customers may harm your business when they push you to go against your values or ethics. Don't follow them. Remember that your values are what shapes your identity. Stick to your business ethics and don't allow a customer to make you break the rules.

2.  Say no when you have to

When to say no should be a policy in your business. The policy should determine when and how would you say no.

For example, if a customer is asking for an unrealistic request/discount that you can't offer, or if the request is out of your business scope, you can say no or (if that's out of your authority) pass the issue to the decision-maker. 

How to say no is a skill that should be learned. Try to justify your rejection and give alternatives.

3.  Fire your customer politely when necessary

That’s your final option. When all the tactics fail to save your customer relationship, you need to take that undesirable decision, which should be limited and rarely applied under specific rules and circumstances.

The bad behavior may be insulting your team or threatening them, paying late regularly, deceiving the company, trying to do something illegal, continuously complaining, etc.

A set of actions should be clarified in your company’s values; if they happen, the team will take the strategy of firing the customer.

4.  Offer alternatives

If possible, you can give the customer alternatives which may be your competitors; this will give you a better reputation as all you cared about was helping the customer solve their problem.

Final words

Just like danger levels, difficult customers come with various levels that determine the way you deal with them and their problems. There may be an endless number of difficult customers, such as angry, impatient, talkative, rude, etc.

Understanding customers' types and prioritizing complains will help you take the proper action. But can you avoid difficult customers? [Every business's wish]

The short answer is NO. Why?

Because you can't avoid the nature of human beings, you can't control others' personality nor attitude, you can only control yours.