How to Deal With Difficult Customers

Tips on Managing Situations Involving Difficult Clients

Nuvro Project Management Blog

Customers are a delight… sometimes. Other times, however, customers can be a real pain in the you know what. The same is true of life in general. A lot of people are great. But even genuinely good-hearted people occasionally have lapses in their mood. Sometimes your bad day turns out to be someone else’s bad day when you treat them negatively.

People who work in customer service are almost certainly familiar with this. A customer calls, they’re upset, something went wrong, and they seem to be taking it out on you. Never mind that you almost certainly had nothing to do with it, you’ll be taking the blame. To be clear, customers are rarely mad at you personally, and instead are upset about the situation. Still, their frustration can feel personal.

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to diffuse the situation and work towards a solution.

Dealing With Difficult Customers

First, Take a Breath

The customer service industry suffers from high turn over. Fact is, customer service work can be unpleasant. Angry customers will often treat you poorly because you represent the company and situation take made them upset in the first place. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the customer is upset with the situation, not you. Put yourself in your shoes. We all have bad experiences with companies and products from time to time.

Let The Customer Vent

The next step is to listen and to allow the customer to vent. Don’t cut them off, don’t even try to diffuse the situation, not yet. Let them complain. Let them rant. For most customer service reps, this will be the worst part.

As they vent, take notes either mentally or by writing them out. At the end of the conversation, give them a second or two of silence. Occasionally repeating or recounting something that they said can also signal to them that you are listening.

Venting is important because it allows people to get their negative energy out. This, in turn, will make it easier for them to move on and for you to both work together to find a solution. If you try to cut them off or move towards a resolution too quickly, the negative emotions will still be there. So let them vent.

The Exception to the Rule: Swearing and Verbal Abuse

There’s only one reason to break the above rule and that’s if they are being verbally abusive. If a customer is swearing or being abusive, you can interrupt them and let them know that their behavior is inappropriate. Be helpful but explicit and also ask them if they understand. Something like:

“Thomas, I want to help you but I can’t if you swear. Do you understand?”

And if they continue to swear or threaten you, you can escalate:

“Thomas, I don’t want to but if you continue to swear, I will be forced to terminate this discussion.”

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Next, Express Empathy

After the customer has vented, start to build up empathy. Avoid comments like “I’m sorry you feel that way” because it can sound like you’re shifting blame onto them. Instead, say something like “I’d be upset about that as well.” You’re acknowledging the problem and you’re also relating to them.

After expressing some empathy, put forward a question or point that requires feedback. Something like “how about I try to resolve this situation?” is a good start. If the customer is still angry, they might need to vent some more. In that case, step back and let them vent. Being able to do that is for sure one of biggest customer service challenges!

Get Directly to the Solution

Don’t waste time beating around the bush. Many customers already have a solution in mind, such as getting a refund or a replacement. Some customers will come straight out and say it. Others will be more vague.

Asking them directly what they would like you to do. This will help you find a resolution quickly. Keep it simple, “what can I do for you?”, or “how can I solve this problem for you?” Most of the time, this will get you to either a solution or at least a starting point for negotiation. You can be sure this approach is going to boost your customer satisfaction a lot!

Negotiate the Solution

Did the customer offer a reasonable solution? If so, take them up on it. Customers know what they want and they’ll appreciate that you’re taking them seriously.

If the customer asks for something outrageous or that’s beyond your capability to deliver, you can try negotiating. Let them know what you can do and why you can't do what they want you to. In a worse case scenario, you may have to escalate the complaint to a manager or specialist.

If possible, try to offer them a bit extra. For example, if they want you to send a replacement gizmo because the original gizmo was broken during the shipping process, offer to upgrade the shipping so that the item reaches them more quickly.

End With a Pleasant Goodbye

Finally, it’s time to say goodbye. In an ideal situation, you’re feeling good about yourself and your customer is a happy or at least no longer angry camper. Sometimes, the customer will still be a bit upset, and you might be frustrated yourself. Take a deep breath. The worst is over either way.

When you say goodbye, express sympathy, and appreciation. You don’t have to go overboard. Keep it simple:

“I’m sorry that this happened, but I’m glad we found a solution. I hope you have a great day and we appreciate you as a customer.”

Drop mic. You’ve done what you can and by focusing on solutions, you stand a good chance of retaining the customer.

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