Written by Fara Rosenzweig

March 19, 2020

The guy that yells over you while you’re trying to handle his complaint.

A family that insists that each member gets to speak to every member of management until they get a full refund.

The woman that insists she ordered double foam in her latte and complains about it until her coffee goes cold.

Sound familiar?

We’ve all dealt with difficult customers and have walked away frustrated, heartbroken, or swearing we’d never work another day in our life. People are part of any business and customers, for better or for worse, are the reason that we have a job in the first place. How do you learn to deal with difficult customers appropriately? 

The answers to dealing with difficult customers go beyond conflict resolution or anger management. There are vital things to do as a company to ensure that your next difficult customer isn’t the downfall of your business. As with anything important to the core of your business, this requires a measured strategy.

Why Difficult Customers Still Matter

It’s no secret that acquiring new customers costs five times more than retaining current ones. A business that understands this well and implements a customer experience strategy to retain those existing customers don’t only keep a customer base. They see a substantial profit. Increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits from 25-95%; it pays to push through growing pains with existing customers. In addition to your bottom line, customers affect these key factors:

Difficult customers talk. The next time you’re tempted to get in the last word with that angry customer, think about their sphere of influence. Customers, happy and unhappy, share their good and bad experiences with friends and family. With endless digital and social media outlets at their fingertips, disgruntled customers have a platform to share their feelings and opinions. It doesn’t take a lot of bad press for an unfavorable shadow to fall over a business. 

The other great insight that a difficult customer can provide, although we usually only see it in hindsight, is the ability to see systems that are no longer serving the business or the customer. A freshly launched complaint sucks the complacency out of the room and gets the problem-solvers going. Run through last month’s call log or list of emails and see what you can learn.

What to do About Difficult Customers

Your marketing team is up to date on the strategy for the quarter and your accounting team has communicated the financial expectations to the board. But you may still be missing opportunities if your customer service strategy has yet to be solidified.

The customer service guidelines that your company has in place are just as important as any other strategy you employ. It’s vital that your business uses best practices when handling difficult customers. These guidelines for dealing with difficult customers need to be presented to all employees and updated as needed. An annual training or orientation needs to be held to address any changes made to the guidelines and to discuss how those guidelines can improve. Knowing the best way to deal with difficult customers can teach you how to build customer loyalty. 

Additionally, you can also put safeguards in place to provide next-level customer support, like employing a Chatbot to help gain customer feedback and nurture those that may not have had the best experience. In your ManyChat dashboard, you can set up a flow that not only gathers customer feedback but shuffles them to the right place should their experience have been less than ideal. For those who are really upset, you can get their phone number and text them a special coupon code to help remedy any negative situations. This helps to handle customer complaints directly and shows customers that you want to address their concerns and solve the issue at hand. 

difficult customer journey

5 Ways to Address a Difficult Customer

Unfortunately, experiences with a disgruntled customer can be completely unpredictable. Despite the unease that comes with not knowing when a difficult situation will arise, there are best practices that you can keep in your tool belt as you need them. Make the following tips your priority and ensure that they’re included in your customer service training. Remember that every single employee is responsible for ensuring the best customer service experience. 

1. Practice active listening

Therapists use active listening skills with their clients — because it works. You may not be able to resolve an angry customer’s complaint, but you can give them your full attention. Active listening is a great tool to use because it allows the customer to feel truly heard. The other advantage of active listening is that it trains you to be a better listener and helps you empathize with them. Instead of a simple apology, active listening makes the situation personalized to the client/customer. For example: “Rachel, I hear that you’re frustrated that your shipment is delayed. I understand that you placed that order last Thursday and never received a shipping confirmation. Is that correct?”

2. Demonstrate emotional control.

Difficult customers come to the table with a lot of emotional charge. Not all customers will be belligerent or angry, but a difficult customer sure can bring those emotions out in you, too. You may feel infuriated at the customer’s condescending tone or their disregard for your hard work. Demonstrating emotional control is necessary for difficult customer situations because, at the end of the day, your interactions with them are going to add to your brand’s overall customer experience and reputation. Taking the high road means maintaining control of your effect, tone, and body language.

3. Go into performance mode.

The sure way to know that you won’t let your own emotional response to a disgruntled customer get to you is tapping into your inner performance mode. Imagine that you’re 15 minutes into a customer service call with a very difficult customer. They’ve asked the same question 10 times and won’t hang up until you fix it all. Your patience has worn thin and your lunch break is approaching. Now imagine that your boss is sitting with you at your desk. They’re privy to the whole conversation and are watching your reaction. Sometimes having a sense of accountability can aid in keeping things professional.

It also helps to remember that word-of-mouth marketing is very influential, and one bad apple is usually quick to make a lot of noise and tell anyone about their experience who’ll listen. To save yourself from a bad review or bad press, try and handle their complaints as professionally as possible. In most cases, customers will understand and it can blow over.

4. Agree to disagree.

You’re looking at the customer’s order and can clearly see that they purchased the large and not the small. They insist that there was a mixup in the warehouse. Is it worth running in circles without an end in sight? When it comes to measuring customer satisfaction, sometimes it’s best to let some things go so as not to risk your reputation. Make sure that your company has a clearly outlined policy on returns and refunds for your customer service reps to abide by. In most cases, erring on the side of pleasing the customers will result in favorable customer reviews and customer retention.

5. Offer a Remedy

In most cases, remedying a situation-gone-south with some sort of reward or giveaway tends to soothe your customer’s frustration. You may have seen this in situations where a customer was dissatisfied with their order at a restaurant and the restaurant took it off their bill. Offering a discount, free product, a return, or store credit, is a great way to make things right and build rapport.

6. Don’t take it personally.

Easier said than done, but imperative to know. Customers are often upset because of difficult circumstances in their personal lives. Stress certainly doesn’t bring out the best in most of us. Customer service experiences or unwanted stressors with a purchase just adds fuel to the fire. The best balance to an overreaction is to stay calm and realize that the interaction isn’t personal.

Quick Assessment

Which of these best practices does your company implement already? Are there other tips that you would add? Think of a time that you used one of these skills to deflect an otherwise intense situation with a customer. What went well? Is there anything that you would do differently? What is customer lifetime value and how can you improve it?

The key to implementing a customer service strategy that defuses even the most dissatisfied customers is to learn from past instances, record key observations, and put a plan in place for the future.

Key Takeaways

Difficult customers can be tough to deal with. Unfortunately, it’s an inevitable aspect of the business.

You don’t have to handle difficult customers with perfection, but professionalism is key. You can save yourself from difficult customer situations by employing a customer service strategy that diffuses negative scenarios before they escalate. You may employ chat support, a consistent customer support strategy, or just listen to customer feedback and make adjustments as needed. There are a lot of things you can do to save yourself from the negativity of handling difficult customers. Start by learning from these experiences and letting it roll off your shoulders.