60% of consumers decided against conducting a business transaction due to a poor service experience, according to a 2014 report conducted by American Express. It’s clear that failing your customers, no matter how difficult they are, can lose your company a great deal of business.
So how do you deal with difficult customers?
The first step is to identify the type of difficult customer you are working with. In doing this you can more readily identify what techniques will best help you help them—this is a crucial strategy for any business that wants to keep customers happy and retention rates high. Study the customer profiles below to learn how to deal with difficult customers in each situation.
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This customer may demand things that you may not be able to deliver. They know what they want: a special discount on that pair of sneakers, or special attention from your supervisor this very instant. But whether what they want is something you can deliver or not is another story entirely.
It’s not uncommon for customers to be demanding, even loyal customers. This comes from a sense of entitlement, and spending more money with your company can make it worse.
Battling through the abuse of a demanding customer can be difficult—you don’t want to lose their business, but at the same time you aren’t sure how to meet their impossible standards.
The best way to deal with demanding customers is to compromise. Do the best you can to meet the customers’ expectations, but let them know that you are going the extra mile. If you work harder for them but do not communicate the extra effort, they may become increasingly more demanding, and there will come a point where you really cannot meet the customers’ expectations.
For example, if your demanding customer asks you to hurry up with a response, tell them you will have to transfer them to a specialist that can expedite the process (or that you will have to review their transaction history). Always reassure your demanding customer that this is the fastest route to resolution.
This customer is confused with a process or product. They may not know what they want, or they flip flop between products. They may ask for your expert opinion to help guide them in the buying process. This makes the process of helping them very difficult, and at times frustrating.
The solution in this case is to be completely honest.
It’s not just enough to give your honest opinion—your opinion should be backed up by data or proof, as well as examples of what other customers have told you about their experience with your product or service.
For example, if a customer asks you if she should buy a mountain bike or a cruiser bike, tell her what the technical differences between the bikes are. Then give her examples of what other customers have chosen based off of their own specific needs. Focus on customer stories that are similar: if you know a customer who lives on the beach just like this customer does, mention how happy that customer is with their cruiser. Paint them a picture of what their purchase could look like with both facts and anecdotes.
This is the customer that just doesn’t offer enough details. For example, this customer may tell you they have a problem with their package. This could be:
It’s important that you know exactly what a customer needs before moving forward with the solution. But how do you get the right information without being annoying or rude?
Ask specific questions, and prime them with answers.
For example, in the situation above (where the customer says “they have a problem with the package”) you may ask, “Is there a problem with the shipping or the product?”
Giving the customer options to choose from will help you narrow down to the solution. Even if you don’t offer them the right answers, they will be forced to come up with an alternative to the possibilities you posed.
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This customer may go from chatty to completely silent within minutes. They may have been distracted by a call or email, but it’s hard to be sure. This makes it difficult to know what to do because you want to be of assistance but they are not present. This also keeps you from attending to other customers who are patiently waiting for your assistance.
The best way to fix this problem is to develop a preventative strategy.
Have your team implement an “idle rule”. You can log out of a session after a certain length of time and have an automatic email sent to the customer with further options (like phone, email, or self-service). Remember, be sure to check in a few times first to confirm whether or not the customer is available before ending a chat.
This customer always has something negative to say. Either they don’t like your product or service, and sometimes customers may even resort to name-calling. For some, this can be the hardest customer to deal with, because saying “I’m sorry” isn’t always enough.
According to Ombudsman Services, 52 million complaints were filed in Great Britain in 2015. So know that you are not alone: customer service operators at most companies are dealing with the same kind of disgruntled customers.
It’s important to recognize when the abuse has gone too far: in the case of threats, make sure to document the conversation and report it to a supervisor. But if the customer is simply being unpleasant (and not scary), then it’s important to make the customer feel heard.
Ask your customer:
This kind of attentive empathy can remind your customers that they are important to your company. Make them feel valued, and invite them to fill out a feedback survey that can be used to improve your business.
And don’t forget to thank customers for all they are doing to help your team improve—after all, they could just leave you in the dust for your competitor.
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This customer insists that they could do what you do ten times faster while blindfolded. They may not be as picky about other issues, but they are certainly in a hurry and like to remind you they have a schedule to adhere to. Unfortunately for you, that doesn’t mean you don’t have other things to do or other customers to help.
Work with your team to offer more self-service options. This way your customers can feel like they have a faster route to resolution if they cannot be bothered to wait to chat with an operator.
For example, a customer may want her question addressed quickly and efficiently about your return policy. She can go through the comprehensive FAQ and search for her question to find a solution without the aid of an operator.
At times, managing difficult customers can hinder your ability to get your work done. But if handling difficult customers is faced as an opportunity rather than a hurdle, you may find that you can strengthen your customer service skills while retaining valuable business.
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