How to Handle Difficult Customers?


By Eva Goyena, Contributing Writer Philippines

It may be tough, but knowing how to deal with disgruntled customers is a mark of true professionalism.

It sounds like a cliche, but often it is true: “The customer is always right.”

Even if everything seems to be breaking down, even if these customers who command the right to be “always right” are unrealistic, angry or rude. Even if a few minutes of heated argument with these people challenge your patience and stress you out.

When this happens, step back, take a breathe, and remember that losing anger is NOT the answer. It’s not only unproductive—it can backfire, cost your company a precious account, and may even have not-so-good consequences on your job.

Don’t blow it; instead, find helpful techniques of handling difficult customers.

Two years ago I was connected with an entertainment-guide magazine, which devoted half of its pages to cable channel schedules as a freebie to its subscribers. One day, a persistent subscriber kept on nagging us to make some editorial changes which would make the magazine similar to its number one competitor! He may have liked the format of the competition, but it wasn’t ours. No matter how politely I tried to answer him, he kept on insisting on his way, and that he was right. After the conversation, I was fuming, to say the least!

I had much to learn. Later on, I discovered that voicing an appreciation of the customer’s ideas would make them feel valuable. They would in turn become polite and civil. Difficult customers usually don’t want to stop arguing until you consider their point.

However, while it should be made clear to them that their ideas would be taken into consideration, they would not necessarily or automatically be imposed. In this way, you will not feel obligated to follow all their suggestions, especially the unrealistic ones. Express gratitude for their ideas, but always explain that even these follow a set process.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

How do you deal with angry complainers? Delve into the source of the problem, then put yourself on their shoe and ask, “Will I be angry if this happened to me?” You might be surprised at the answer.

Besides, all of us experience lousy service at some point; all of us become the angry, complaining customer.

A case in point: repeated suspicious deductions on one’s prepaid account. When I tried complaining to their customer care, it was like complaining to a blank wall. After hours of unproductive follow-up calls, customer service ultimately asked me to fax a written complaint to the head personnel of its Investigation and Correspondence Team. The worst part was that the company did not accept follow-ups— you have to wait for them to respond. And there was no guarantee that they would.

Not too many customers get enraged because of a single insignificant problem, or just because they are less satisfied with the service; people are too preoccupied now to waste time and energy for that. Usually anger starts when problem persists and complaints are not handled well. What’s more angering for a customer is when the case drag; no updates or assurance is given, but only vague promises.

After being on both sides of the coin—the one handling customer service and the one asking for it—experience has taught me the following important lessons:

Keep this in mind the next time you face a volley of angry words:

1. Ask what the problem is, and immediately agree with the person that he has the right to feel upset for what happened. Respect for his situation calms the customer down.

2. Don’t take his angry words personally. He is mad about the service of the company, not at you as a person.

3. Apologizing for the inconvenience would also appease the customer. However, bear in mind not to blame nor defend anybody responsible for the problem because it will only remind him of his frustration with the service. Just recognize the problem, and then offer solutions and alternatives. Telling the customer bluntly what he is asking is “unacceptable” will again anger him, much more if you make excuses and explanations as to why his ideas are unworkable. Focus on what can be done instead.

Surveys show that only a very minimal number of customers complains, the rest simply find another company to do business with. But the bitter pill sinks in once these disgruntled customers tell their friends about their disappointing experience with the company, and their friends pass it also to their other friends. Bad reputation with one frustrated customer might cost you ten potential clients!

As you can figure out, difficult customers can make or break your business or career. So instead of thinking up excuses, why not invest on good customer relations, and good service as well? After all, if the service were good there would be nothing to complain about.