Handle With Care: Professional Ways to Manage Difficult Customers

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Key Takeaways

  • In today’s challenging economy, maintaining your customer base is more important than ever. 
  • Successfully managing difficult customers is a key factor in your ongoing success.
  • By listening to customer concerns, being responsive and training your staff, you can turn negative customer interactions into positive experiences.

 

As a small business owner, you are constantly seeking ways to improve your customer service. Making sure your customers are happy is more than the right thing to do; it’s just good business. While over 90 percent of customers won’t complain to you, they simply will never do business with you again. Buyers appreciate brands that are attentive to their needs and over 80 percent are willing to pay more for a great customer experience. Maybe that’s why customer experience has overtaken product as the key brand differentiator among all U.S. businesses.  

Because your small business is so focused on providing great customer service, you probably don’t have to deal with difficult customers regularly. But make no mistake about it, a difficult situation with a customer will eventually arise and you need to be up for the challenge. Add to this the COVID-19 crisis, and focusing on serving and maintaining your customer base becomes more important than ever before. Here are some helpful ideas for dealing with difficult customers during these difficult times – and beyond. 

 

When a Difficult Customer is Still a Good Customer
During the ongoing crisis (and always), it's important to embrace the idea that even difficult customers are good customers – all of the business you can gain and maintain right now is beneficial. This may also be the easiest time to be sympathetic and understanding toward difficult customer experiences. It’s a stressful and unusual situation for us all and customers may not always “act like themselves.” 

A healthy dose of patience goes a long way toward making difficult customers happy and satisfied buyers. Keep in mind that with every difficult customer experience there exists the opportunity to create a meaningful long-term buyer relationship simply by changing a negative encounter into a positive one. 

If there is a problem with a product, service or delivery caused by the crisis, you should be upfront, explain your situation and suggest a solution. A “make good” on an order at a later date when it is available or a gift card for a future purchase can help to repair any damage done. Offering flexibility to your customers in the form of a credit or charging no fees to change service appointments or delivery dates will set a positive tone for your customers and employees.

 

The Customer is (Almost) Always Right
The old adage “the customer is always right” popularized by successful retailers like Marshall Field, Gordon Selfridge and John Wanamaker continues to have merit for several reasons. Your customers are your source of revenue generation and without them no business will last very long. One unhappy customer, no matter how difficult and unreasonable, can be extremely damaging. It may seem small or unimportant at the time, but bad customer service costs businesses more than $75 billion a year.

While it is certainly important to put your buyers first, the “customer is always right” mantra can potentially demoralize employees. You should always do everything you can to make things right for your customers, but also recognize when there is a situation that simply cannot be reasonably resolved. Considering your limited resources of money, time and energy, do what is best for your business situationally. If you have taken the right steps in dealing with a difficult customer to no avail, reset, move forward and focus on the positive.

Calmness Over Confrontation
Like regular, happy customers, not all buyers are alike. From indecisive personalities to highly critical and aggressive ones, understanding these difficult buyers is the first step in dealing with them. Look for clues early to understand their approach and develop an appropriate proactive solution. When a tense customer situation rises, you and your team are responsible for creating an environment that leads to a positive resolution. For example, if you sense that the situation is escalating and a customer begins to talk loudly, remain calm and respond in an even tone. Your ability to recognize and diffuse an aggressive moment can help keep a customer’s experience from becoming negative.

Sometimes a difficult customer just wants to vent. Let them be heard. Listening can go a long way and if you remain calm and share a hardship your company is facing, it may create a unifying moment instead of a confrontational one. When in doubt, stick with the general game plan of validating a customer’s experience (even if they are wrong), showing empathy whenever possible and reminding the customer that you are there to assist them. This will ensure your customers feel valued, which will increase the likelihood of them returning and potentially even sharing their positive experience with others.  

 

Train to Win
Make an investment in training your staff to manage difficult customers. Use training resources you already have in place and continually add tools like a one-sheet primer that offers a list of solutions for customer issues, introducing scenario role playing for your team and creating a comprehensive manual that employees can use as a reference. 

Once you have the right resources in place, remember to train frequently. Identify “teachable moments” and help your staff prepare for challenging customer situations. It’s also important to empower employees and give them the authority to immediately address customer issues that arise. This could mean allowing them to make decisions within certain dollar amounts in a retail environment and applying this model to eCommerce representatives as well. Customers appreciate a quick resolution and giving your employees more responsibility also will improve team morale. 

 

Don’t Forget Technology
In today’s challenging economy, more people than ever are at home and eCommerce has become their primary method for making purchases. Keep in mind that some of these consumers will be using online stores for the first time, which can lead to frustration especially in times like these. Make it easy for your online customers with an easy-to-navigate website and a well-organized eCommerce page that makes transactions fast and simple. 

If you offer subscriptions, consider that some companies allow customers to change their plans on the website directly without having to call and wait on a customer support line. Strategies like this help reduce customer inconveniences and dissatisfaction. To further manage and customize preferences, invest in customer relationship management (CRM) software like Hubspot and Creatio to improve your services and get to know your customers better.

With so many customers online while they are at home, social media takes on greater importance. The number of disgruntled customers who take to social media and other online platforms to complain about businesses is well documented but technology can help you head off potential problems. Monitor online reviews with social media listening tools such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social and review Yelp and other sites. When you see a negative comment, respond quickly and offer to make the situation right. Also, when a customer posts a positive comment, thank them for their patronage and offer a discount on a future purchase.

Turn Negative Customer Interactions into Positive Experiences 

Handling difficult customers is never easy, but it comes with the territory of owning your own business. By following our tips, you'll be ready to improve your customer experience and resolve complaints when they arise.

 

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