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A difficult customer? Nothing you can’t handle!

“Are you so stupid just because you’re stupid or because you’re a woman?” I once heard from one of my customers. Yes, we all get them, the “difficult” ones. There are those who are aggressive, those who yell and those who offend you – is it even possible to have a constructive discussion with any of them? Of course! You just have to remember a few important rules.

Rule #1: Show your understanding
I know it’s not easy to be yelled at. No one likes to be offended. However, your customer is annoyed for a reason. There are no customers who simply wake up and think “so I’m going to call the X Company and yell at somebody there just for fun”. Well, maybe there are. But what they need is a psychologist not customer service. Annoyance and aggression are most frequently caused by frustration – the customer counted on something, didn’t receive something or something disappointed him. Therefore, it is worth to say: “I understand that this is a difficult situation for you”. Don’t say: “I know how you feel” if in reality you don’t. Say: “I can hear you’re not very pleased”. The customer wants to be heard. To be understood.

Rule #2: Apologise if you’re guilty
Being criticised by the customer can be either fair, fair to some extent or simply unfair. If the critique is fair (if you indeed failed to see to something or the company messed something up) then you have to react in an adequate manner. You should apologise, show remorse and guarantee improved services, for example: “Indeed, I can see in the system that your order hasn’t been sent yet. We seem to have some kind of a problem. I’m really sorry. I’ll immediately check what we can do to complete your order as soon as possible”. If we’re to blame for the situation, hiding the truth from the customer is pointless. You just have to apologise – customers want to hear apologies – and suggest the way you’re going to recover from your mistake. If your customer’s critique is fair but only to some extent (your company actually didn’t take some steps at one point but only because the customer failed to see to something) then again – you have to react accordingly. Meaning? In this case, I suggest communication: “Yes, I can see that your order hasn’t been sent yet. However, this delay is caused by the fact that the payment for the pro forma invoice hasn’t been made. Please, make the due payment as soon as possible and immediately after having received it we will send your order”. What if the customer’s critique is unfair? You have to defend yourself assertively, for example: “I understand that you believe the payment was made. However, we can’t see it in our system”. And after that, finish any disputes as soon as you have an opportunity to do so.

Rule #3: Declare your good intentions and willingness help
Though it seems obvious, it is always worth to say it loud and clear: “I am going to help you. Please calm down, tell me what happened and what do you think we should do about it”. When the customer hears things like “I’ll help you”, “I’ll take care of that immediately”, “I’m going to help right now” then, from my experience, he or she feels taken care of and calms down. If your customer keeps being very emotional, then why not add: “I want this problem to be solved quickly as much as you do. So please, help me with that. If you could please stop yelling at me so that we can work this out together”. All in all, you shouldn’t foul your own teammates, right?

Rule #4: Propose specific actions
After you’ve apologised to your customer, said you understood the situation and declared your willingness to help, it’s time to eventually propose some specific actions. I suggest to end any disputes on who’s to blame for what as quickly as possible and move on to a specific action plan. After all, it’s what the customer expects from you. So, now is the time for a clear road map: “I’m getting in touch with our logistics department to track your order right now. I’ll call you back when I have all the information and when I know the planned delivery time, ok?”. If this isn’t enough and the customer is still aggressive, try: “This is our action plan. What else can I do for you?”.

End the conversation with a clear message: say what you’re going to do and ask if there’s anything else you can help the customer with. After hanging up, take a brake (you deserve it!) and go out for a few… deep breaths.

Sylwia Królikowska
CEO & Founder of Van Dahlen Group, Business psychologist, business trainer and consultant.