How to Deal With Difficult Customers and Situations


“Be Sincere in Your Actions and True to Your Word

 and You’ll Get Along” Confucius

What “Confucius say” is smart. And it’s especially important when dealing with with difficult customers.

Most of us think difficult customers just come with the territory. Whether dealing with them face-to face or on the phone, part of your job is to display professionalism, resolve their problem, and make them happy. If you don’t, they’ll head straight over to your competitor. It’s that simple.

When dealing with a difficult customer it’s easy to lose your cool, or become defensive-especially if they are angry and upset and you are under a great deal of pressure yourself. If you do lose control, you will make the person even angrier and cause yourself even more stress. The following are a few tips for sales and service pros to assist you when faced with the challenge dealing with the difficult customer.

1)  Immediately shift into the right mind-set the moment you encounter a tough customer or situation.  

* The “C’s” – Cool, calm, collected, confident you can handle it, confident in your price

* How important every customer is to your company

* You will need to  demonstrate empathy, respect and professionalism

* Apologies are in order – even if the customer is wrong

* If the customer has a viable complaint they have every right to complain

* Difficult customers are an opportunity for you to shine! Studies have proven that resolving problems and making customers happy can turn them into loyal advocates.

2. Listen and allow the customer to vent.

Regardless of why a customer is being difficult (that includes if they simply have a difficult personality) they want and need you to listen. This is especially important when a customer is angry. Some may barely let you finish your greeting and go into a tirade. As you listen, internalize the customer’s situation.

3.  Immediately display empathy with a “Verbal Cushion.”  

When a customer is unhappy or angry, diffuse the situation. Convince the customer that you truly feel bad for their problem, understand their situation, and genuinely want to help them. This will then allow you to hold a constructive conversation. Memorize these “verbal cushions” (words and phrases that “cushion” the emotions and dissatisfaction of the customer) and help you handle the situation more effectively.

“You have a complaint/problem? Okay. What happened?”

“I’m sorry. I apologize this occurred.  And I want to thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
“Price is an issue for all of us.”

When the customer is irate:

“You’re upset because of invoice. Let’s sit down and walk through the invoice and review it together.”

I’m sorry this happened. I don’t blame you for being upset, Mr. Smith.”

In all situations:

Never blame or make negative remarks about another person, department or your company unless you want to lose the customer and destroy the reputation of your company.

4.  Communicate that your goal is to make them happy and what you will do. Then do it. Make the phone calls. Get the information you need. Educate the customer. Speak facts. Offer a solution. When appropriate use a problem solving approach:

  • Ask the customer what she/he would like to see happen now
  • Suggest alternatives – Can you meet each other halfway.
  • Decide on a solution

When the customer is irate, or completely out of control:

What do you do when you encounter an angry customer who uses foul language or threatens you? The most professional way to handle it would be to make statements such as these:

“Mr. Smith, I haven’t said anything to disrespect you in any way. I want to solve the problem.”

“I’m on your side.”

“I hear you. What can I do to make this situation okay for you?” You can usually calm a customer down at this point. You may not be able to give the customer exactly what they want, (you may have to overcompensate them) but at least they will know you understand them, which diffuses the emotion of the situation, gives everyone a chance to reclaim their dignity, and find a satisfying answer.

5. End on a positive note. Extend your hand and thank the customer.  

6.  Remember the bottom line.  

Do all you can to make the customer happy and feel supported by you, your business and the brand you represent.

When price is the bottom line:

If you are in sales, you will constantly hear complaints about price and it does “come with the territory.” If a customer is being difficult on price, don’t get defensive. Remember the “C’s in the beginning of this article. Explain your pricing, convince the customer that it is indeed, competitive and correct and fair, and that your company has a reputation for integrity in business. You would not overcharge a customer. When appropriate, negotiate.  Brainstorm with the top sales people in your company and determine the best response to price objections.

(Need assistance in this area? We can help. Call (847) 581 9968, or reply to this e-mail.

7.  Practice proactive complaint prevention. The best way to handle difficult customers and situations is to prevent problems from occurring. Consider situations that can cause customer dissatisfaction. Involve your entire company in identifying service flaws and ways to practice proactive complaint prevention. Below are three examples:

*  Identify service flaws and take action to change them

*  Peel the onion. Find the root cause of the problem and fix it.

*  Make sure every person in your company understands what customers want, need, and expect from your organization.

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About Christine Corelli

Christine Corelli is a motivational, keynote, business, leadership, sales, and customer service speaker, sales trainer, and author of six business books. As a keynote speaker, she is known for her high energy and interactive speaking style.

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