Dealing With A Difficult Customer.

By Elizabeth Murinye

In the business of branding, it is an inevitable fact that one has to deal with a difficult customer at some point. The chances are, at least 5-10 % of customers will be ‘quite a challenge’ to work with and this can exhaust so much of a business’ time, energy and brand reputation. Whilst the term, “the customer is always right” has been engraved in our mentality, customers are humans who are prone to err and need to be managed to avoid escalations/de-escalate.

How to deal with a difficult customer is an essential component of your branding strategy.  But before we get into how we can manage difficult customers, let’s first dive into defining what qualifies as a difficult customer, what are the characteristics and traits that we can smell from a distance that determine whether we are working with a complex client or not.

What Is A Difficult Customer

By definition, a difficult customer is often someone who has simply taken an unpalatable habit to an extreme, this can range from shouting and being rude when they are dissatisfied — instead of communicating clearly. They are usually indecisive, conflicted by their decisions, and seemingly try to provoke the other party to react in an uncontrollable manner. Some behaviours of a difficult customer include:

  • Not wanting to pay for anything/trying to get extra or discounted services beyond the initial agreement. Bad customers or clients will try to go beyond the agreed-upon services and ask for special favours, such as discounts and free resources. They often want to renegotiate agreed-upon terms and can seem impossible to please.
  • Being rude, dismissive, talking in anger, demeaning, verbal abuse, do not give you a chance to communicate with them.
  • Being disrespectful of your time/not knowing what they want. Some customers lack clarity on what they want and frequently change their mind, meaning you have to adjust to their new requirements constantly. Dealing with these issues takes away time that you could be using for your other clients.
  • The difficult customer delays the project/refuses to follow your timeliness or procedure. Bad customers often want you to make exceptions to your procedures and structures. If you’re making exceptions for your proven procedures that have worked well for customers, not only will this eat up your time and resources, but it could affect the quality of the product and/or service that you deliver.
  • A difficult customer has a “know-it-all” attitude/does not see you as a partner. Depending on the type of business you have, if a customer views your work together as a transaction where they expect to tell you what to do and ignore your advice and recommendations as opposed to working together in a mutually respectful partnership, there might be trouble ahead. The best customer experiences happen when customers value your expertise and view you as a partner in their success.

Dealing With A Difficult Customer

We all know that customers ultimately are the heart beat of every business and without them, there is no business. The customer is Queen. The customer is King.

The customer has the power to either build or tarnish your brand’s reputation. It’s therefore of great importance that business owners learn the art of de-escalation/avoiding — escalations when it comes to managing difficult customers.

By the way, I was humbly nicknamed; “Da Queen of de-escalation” in my previous job at eBay 🙂

So let’s look at how to deal with a difficult customer:

1) Listen & Empathize

Every customer wants to feel valued and respected. When a customer raises an issue. Listen attentively. Do not be dismissive or pretentious. The customer can sense it if you are pretending to care/listen. Take your time and allow the customer to express him/herself.

2) Thank the Customer for raising the issue

If the customer was willing to express their disappointment/dissatisfaction, take this as a positive. It shows at least there is room for the customer to work with you. Some customers wouldn’t even communicate with you their unhappiness. That’s a big issue and can threaten or tarnish your brand without you even knowing there as an issue in the first place. Receiving customer sentiments means you can improve your brand and consistently grow and develop your brand.

Do you want to level up your brand’s entire customer experience? We’ve put together an article that may help you.

What Is Customer Experience.

3) Always keep calm

This can be a difficult thing to do when someone is shouting down your neck, being verbally abusive, demeaning or rude. Remember 2 wrongs don’t make a right. You will win the difficult customer by remaining calm and collected, gentle and apologetic. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

4) Apologize and offer resolution

Sometimes all a customer is looking for is an apology. Don’t be too proud to give it. Especially when the customers’ complaint is valid. Ensure you offer and a step-by-step solution as to how you intend to resolve the issue.

5) Follow up with customer

Do not practice “out of sight, out of mind” theory. How you engage with the customer post service provision is just as important as how you treat the client before and during purchase/transaction. After resolution, make sure you follow up to check if the customer is happy. Trust me. This leaves a positive impression in the customer’s mind.

6) Remember, “it’s not personal”

Don’t take  the difficult customer personally. People are going through a lot and sometimes the issues they are having are coming from a deeper place of just wanting to vent out on someone/something, and unfortunately you may have been the victim on that day.

7) Offer perks if you can
Make it up to the customer. This shows you are willing to go above and beyond so that the customer is looked after.

I hope you found this article helpful and valuable in dealing with a difficult customer.