A couple of years ago I had a call from a Customer Service Manager working in the paper industry. He wanted me to run a seminar for his team, on “How to Deal with Difficult Customers”.
I had several telephone conversations with this manager organising dates, times and getting to understand his business. If I was to describe his style on the telephone I would use words like, businesslike, cold, curt and somewhat impatient. I started to realise that if I was one of his customers then I might have been a bit “difficult”. He certainly knew his business and I don’t think he was a bad person but warm and friendly – forget it.
There are actually very few genuinely difficult customers in the world. And I hear you say – “we’ve got all of them”. However the majority of customers in the world are reasonable people. They may not think the way, look the way, sound the way that you do. However they are your customers and if you want their business then you’ve got to deal with them. They may get “difficult” from time to time if they feel they’ve been let down. It’s how you handle them that’ll determine if they continue to be a problem or if you can turn them around.
Difficult customers and situations usually occur because some part of our core service has failed or the customer perceives it to have failed. We’ve not delivered on time, the customer has the wrong product, it doesn’t work or it’s not what the customer expected. What happens then is, the customer comes to the interaction with us in a negative frame of mind. It’s what happens then that’ll decide whether they deal with us again or bad mouth us to other people.
The trick is not just to concentrate on fixing the core service issues. Telling the customer that you’ll replace the product, deliver it in half an hour or knock something off the price, isn’t the answer. Sometimes you may not have an answer and the customer is going to hear “NO”. However as you’re aware, it’s how you say “NO” that matters. Let’s consider some of the reasons customer interactions go wrong and why they may become more “difficult”.
We don’t care. – We don’t sound or look as if we care, are concerned or appreciate the customer’s situation. Maybe you do care, however you’ve really got to say caring words and look and sound as if you care. After all, the customer can’t read your mind.
We don’t listen. – Too often we try to jump in with solutions and don’t allow the customer to vent their feelings. Again we need to show the customer that we’re listening by what we say, how we say it and our body language.
We let the customer “get to us”. We often allow the customers attitude to irritate or annoy us. This becomes obvious to the customer, again through our tone of voice, our body language and only fuels a difficult situation.
We use the wrong words. – There are certain trigger words that cause a customer to become more difficult. Some of these are “cant, have to, sorry ’bout that”. Even your organisation’s jargon can have a negative effect on a customer interaction.
We don’t see it from the customer’s point of view. – Too often customer service people think the customer is making too much of a fuss. They think – “What’s the big deal, we’ll fix it right away”. The thing is, it is a big deal for the customer and they want us to appreciate that.
Customers will often judge the level of your service based on how well you recover from a difficult situation and they’re very likely to forgive you if you do it well.