Difficult customers are an inevitability, no matter how dedicated to customer satisfaction a business may be. Whether the complaint is justified or they're being downright rude, dealing with difficult customers and their demands are rarely easy and never fun. If you work in a position requiring interaction with customers, like retail for example, it's important that you be prepared for potential complaints. Here are seven sure-fire ways in dealing with difficult customers so you're armed for the next encounter.

1. Keep your emotions in check

No one likes to be attacked or criticized by a customer, especially if their complaint is unfair. But, letting your emotions get the best of you is the last thing you should do. Being professional and polite to customers is always required, even if they don't act in the same way. Things can quickly turn very ugly if you fail to put your emotions to the side.

2. Listen

Don't interrupt a complaining customer or jump to conclusions about the nature of their problem. Wait politely until they've fully explained their issue before you tactfully respond and be attentive throughout. Giving the customer a chance to fully express themselves is a sign of respect. Besides, letting them vent can help cool the situation down.

3. Apologize with empathy

When a wrong has been committed, an empathetic apology is always the first step towards making recompense. Apologizing tells the customer that you are taking them seriously and that you truly acknowledge their complaint. Sometimes, a simple apology is all an unhappy customer really wants. Most times, that's just the start to neutralizing & resetting a conversation, and starting the steps to resolution.

Even if a customer is actually being unreasonable, issuing an apology is still almost always the best policy. Combining apology with genuine empathy is powerful -- we're all human.

4. Ask questions.

You'll probably need to ask a few questions to clarify things, especially if the customer is in an emotional state. Just be careful to word these questions so that the customer understands you are simply seeking more information, not attacking them or questioning their account. Try to use your questions to show your concern, and be sure as well to ask them what you can do to make things better (and what can reasonably be done within your control).

5. Try to fix the problem.

It falls on you to do all you can to resolve the customer's complaint as quickly as possible. For example, if the customer received a defective product from a retailer, inform them of the return process and how they can get a replacement. What's even better is to go above and beyond simply solving the problem. If possible, offer the customer a steep discount on their next order (like a one-time promo code for 10-15% off). If the issue can't be immediately rectified, do everything within your abilities and escalate if/as necessary.

6. Do better in the future.

Simple, right? Just do better. Really, though, once the matter with the customer is settled, it's time to assess. What went wrong? How is it possible to perform better going forward? What processes do we need to put in place to ensure issues like this don't arise in the future?

This occasion serves as an opportunity to learn and to improve for the future, so don't sit back if the problem was something that could have been avoided. Form a plan to prevent similar occurrences, and carry it out. If done properly, the customer's complaint may actually end up being beneficial. Bottom line, you need to be proactive, not reactive.

7. Follow-up

I have my personal GEICO claims days to thank for this one. At the time, I thought that working in a call-center was one of the most stressful professions to undertake, especially when dealing with insurance claims (you can imagine the stories). Sometimes these claims could be resolved in less than a day, others weeks, and depending on how extreme, months/years -- as a result, frustrated customers would always be the one calling in, forcing a reactive call from the customer service rep.

Whether there's a good, bad, or neutral update, always follow-up with a frustrated customer to at least give them solace that they are actually being considered and top of mind -- it goes a long way at winning them back over.

Overall, there's no realistic way for a business to completely escape difficult customers. Even the best-run businesses with the tightest processes will fall victim to these confrontations. And many times customers may complain even if nothing has actually gone wrong.

Either way, you need to be prepared to properly handle them. Through applying these tips, consider yourself well-equipped for a customer service battle you can always expect to win.

Published on: Aug 30, 2017
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