Career Development

How To Deal With Difficult Customers: Steps You Can Take

March 8, 2021

When you are interacting with customers, it is essential to have excellent customer service skills. This is especially important when dealing with challenging customers. Fortunately, there are certain tips you can keep in mind when dealing with difficult customers that will help you cope with the situation in a professional manner.

In this article, we describe the different types of difficult customers you may encounter and how you can effectively handle a difficult customer.

Why is it important to effectively deal with difficult customers?

It's important to effectively deal with difficult customers because proper customer service can help you retain customers. It's a great way of turning a negative situation into a positive one, and can encourage the customer to become an advocate of your brand or product because of how well you handled their situation and frustrations. Difficult customers may walk away feeling more impressed after your interaction, as opposed to an ordinary customer who may not have had as much interaction with you.

Types of difficult customers you may encounter

The following are some difficult customers that you may encounter:

  • Angry
  • Indecisive
  • Demanding
  • Critical

Angry

Angry customers can be especially challenging. A good first step is to apologize, even if you don't feel like you have done something wrong. This simple action can help to calm them down so that you can move on to a more productive conversation.

An angry customer may raise their voice, but you should keep your voice at a normal level. You may even want to soften your voice. The most important part of handling an angry customer is to remain calm and never reciprocate their anger.

Here are examples of what you could say to an angry customer:

  • "I really want to help. Thank you for bearing with me as I troubleshoot this for you."
  • "I apologize that you received the wrong product, and I understand how inconvenient and frustrating that can be. Please know that we are working on sending a replacement overnight."

Related: How To Deal with Angry Customers (with Examples and Tips)

Indecisive

Indecisive customers can take a long time to make decisions and may ask many questions. One way you can help them is by determining their specific concerns regarding the purchase. You can reassure them by speaking confidently about the product or service and sharing as much useful information with them as you can. Indecisive customers will help you to practice patience.

Here are a few ways you can handle an indecisive customer:

  • Ask them specific questions to help identify their concerns.
  • Offer suggestions and explain where, how and why they can use the product or service so that the customer has a chance to imagine themselves benefitting from the product or service.

Demanding

Demanding customers may have a misunderstanding of how you are able to help them. A demanding customer may ask you to do something that you are not authorized or otherwise able to do for them. With this type of customer, you can assure them that you will do whatever you possibly can to meet their needs. And be prepared to compromise if they are asking for too much.

Here are examples of what you could say to a demanding customer:

  • "I'm sorry to say that I cannot refund you $100 in cash, but I can refund you $50 in cash and issue you $50 in store credit. Would that work?"
  • "Unfortunately, I'm unable to fulfill this request, but let me bring in my manager who may be able to help more."

Critical

A critical customer may find fault in your services, products or something else regarding your business. They may be quick to point out their dissatisfaction. To manage this customer, listen to them patiently and understand their point of view. Sometimes, these customers offer great feedback through their honesty.

Here are examples of what you could say to a critical customer:

  • "Honestly, that is such a great suggestion, thank you! I'm going to submit that to our engineering department so they can consider it."
  • "I understand that this product line may not be for everyone, and I appreciate your honesty."

How to deal with difficult customers

Though there are many types of difficult customers, you can follow some key strategies to help you improve your customer service skills and effectively resolve customer conflicts. The following are some steps you can take to provide excellent customer service when dealing with difficult customers:

  1. Keep your communication professional.
  2. Remain calm and collected.
  3. Speak softly.
  4. Practice active listening.
  5. Give them time to talk.
  6. Understand the customer's point of view.
  7. Assess their needs.
  8. Seek a solution.
  9. Ask for support.
  10. Maintain a positive relationship.

1. Keep your communication professional

When you're communicating with the customer, keep your language professional, friendly and respectful. Your behavior reflects your employer or business, and it is always good to be mindful of your actions and repress any impulses to take the difficult customer's behavior personally. To manage professional communications, keep an even tone and check that your body language shows your customer that you're open to the feedback they're giving. For example, look them in the eye and use their name when responding.

A customer's behavior is complex, and you will likely not understand all the factors that influence their decisions. Remaining objective and professional will help you to maintain a service-oriented demeanor.

2. Remain calm and collected

Take a deep breath and tune into your emotions when you're interacting with difficult customers. It is in your best interest to relax and make every customer interaction as smooth as possible. When you stay calm, you keep the situation from escalating into more difficult communication.

Practice mindfulness when you are interacting with customers. Ask yourself, "How are they making me feel right now?" You may notice that your heart is racing or you are not breathing deeply. Notice the tension in your body and make a conscious decision to keep the present situation from stressing you out. Your interaction with the customer is more likely to be successful if you learn how to recognize and modulate your emotions. For example, if a customer is angry, you may choose to maintain a helpful yet serious tone.

Related: What Is Self-Awareness: Tips on Being More Mindful at Work

3. Speak softly

In a situation where a customer raises their voice, it may be best to speak even more softly than normal. You may want to approach them calmly and speak quietly and slowly. A calm presence helps to keep the situation under control and manageable. Speaking softly is a strategy that may be useful for de-escalating tense conversations.

4. Practice active listening

Active listening is a skill that improves comprehension and communication in conversations. It involves focusing your intention on the speaker, understanding what they are saying and responding in a thoughtful manner.

Active listening helps you to understand the significance of the customer's words so that you can do your best to make the situation better. So you may need to use active listening when your customer needs reassurance that you're engaged in the conversation. Giving the customer your undivided attention should seem respectful, and it will help you to fully understand the problem and how to come up with solutions.

One way to practice active listening is to use verbal affirmations that let the speaker know you are listening and engaged in the conversation. The following are some examples of verbal affirmations:

  • "I understand."
  • "Yes, I agree."
  • "I know what you mean."
  • "I hear you."
  • "That makes sense."

Active listening is a skill that takes practice to master. It is important in the workplace because it helps you to identify and solve problems effectively.

Read more: Active Listening Skills: Definition and Examples

5. Give them time to talk

People want to be understood. Show the customer that you are listening to them. Nod your head and keep an open style of body language. Give them ample time to express themselves before you respond to them. Giving them time to express their minds will help you to understand the situation and give the customer time to work out their thoughts and feelings. It can be tempting to talk over them, but you should wait until there is a natural lapse in the conversation.

If the situation allows, let the customer know that you want to hear their words and you'll remain silent so you can absorb all they are saying without interrupting.

6. Understand the customer's point of view

When managing difficult customers, you can take time to reflect on their point of view. Empathy skills help with understanding another person's feelings or intentions. Practicing empathy allows you to understand the present emotional state of the customer and respond accordingly.

It takes two people to participate in an interaction. In the case when you're speaking with a customer, the customer may need to express their frustration, and you want to hear them out so you can help. If you want to better understand a customer's point of view, try asking questions. Clarifying their needs can help them to know your genuine desire to make it right and allow them to relax knowing you want to help.

To practice empathy, try to:

  • Nod.
  • Ask the customer what their ideal solution is.
  • Be respectful.
  • Take responsibility by using phrases such as, "You're right, we did that wrong."

Related: How To Be Empathetic in the Workplace

7. Assess their needs

One of the best ways to deliver customer service is to figure out the specific needs of each customer. Taking the time to understand the needs of the customer will help you resolve their issues more quickly. Let the customer know that you will do everything in your power to address their complaint.

Related: 9 Ways To Provide Excellent Customer Service

8. Seek a solution

Sometimes, it can be useful to simply ask the customer what they need. For example, you could say, "What do I need to do to make this better for you?" This can help you get straight to satisfactory solutions, and focusing on solutions will give you a better chance of resolving the situation quickly.

This option is best when you're not sure which actions would ease a customer's mind. Allow them to name their ideal solution so you have a better chance of meeting their expectations and/or finding a compromise and retaining them as a customer.

9. Ask for support

In some cases, you may need to ask for support from another coworker or manager. Calling on support can help you in some situations to solve a customer's problem or answer their questions. Let a customer know that you are bringing someone else into the conversation who may have a better perspective or has more authority to solve their problem.

For example, you may want to bring a manager into the conversation if a customer is demanding more than you're qualified to give for the inconvenience. Sometimes customers appreciate this extra step as it reassures them that their concerns are being heard by someone who can make larger decisions on how to move forward.

10. Maintain a positive relationship

When you are finished helping a client, make sure to ask them if there are any other concerns. They might have been so focused on the original problem that they forgot another issue. This also lets the customer know that you still respect and appreciate having them as a customer.

If the customer has been inconvenienced, you may consider offering them a gift card or credit, if it's within your authority to do so.

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