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Top Tips for Dealing with Difficult Customers

No matter the size and reputation of your business, no company can achieve a 100% success rate with their customer service interactions. Despite your company’s best efforts to deliver a top notch, professional experience, there will still be the occasional slip-up resulting in an angry or difficult customer, which could potentially lead to an escalating situation if not handled properly.


In the internet age, all it takes is a screenshot or a social media message to tarnish the image of the brand and cause ‘digital’ damage which cannot be undone.


Even a single unhappy customer now has the power and freedom to send things spiralling out of control.


Take the classic example of United Breaks Guitars. A viral video created in 2009 by a disgruntled customer of United Airlines who failed to address his complaint that his guitar had been broken due to mishandling. The video has received over 17 million views since then and is something of a permanent PR nightmare for the company.  Most recently, #unitedbreaksguitars started trending on Twitter in April 2017 following another widely-known and infamous PR disaster.


When it’s people you are dealing with - there’s no telling what you’re going to face at the end of the phone, email or chat. Your customer might have a complaint, unresolved query or might just be having a bad day. It may not take much for them to take out their anger on the customer service agent on the other end (as we all tend to do at one point or another).


Here we look at a few tips to keep in mind when dealing with difficult customers:


Allow Them to Vent


This calls for superb listening skills. It means allowing the customer to let off steam, while you listen with patience. Don’t interrupt, ask too many questions or be quick to assure them. Give them space to vent.


Encourage them to explain the problem to you in detail so that you can understand the context, and gain a greater understanding of the issue and how it can be resolved. This is an important step as it directs the rest of the conversation. Once the customer has felt heard and valued, they may be more willing to listen to you.


Keep Calm and Carry On


Don’t get flustered or lose your cool when dealing with a difficult customer as that signals that you're not equipped to address their issue. The worst thing you can do here is to react angrily, express displeasure or argue as this is sure to set things off.


The ability to ‘remain calm under pressure’ will be tested here and the onus is on you to be patient and steer the situation. Keeping calm is crucial as it lets the customer feel like they can depend on you and makes them feel at ease as calmness is contagious.


This can be hard to do especially if you’re dealing with confrontational language or a hostile situation. Some tips to help maintain or regain composure are:


- Mentally distance yourself from the customer

- Take deep breaths

- Practice smiling to soothe and cheer yourself

- Put yourself in their shoes to understand the anger from their perspective.


It's Not About You


Remember that they're upset with an aspect of your product, service, company etc. They're not blaming you; you just happened to be at the receiving end of their complaint.


Maintaining a professional attitude towards all customers can help to detach yourself from the experience, and handle it in an objective but empathetic manner.




Once they have explained themselves, express your concern at the onset by apologizing for their unpleasant experience and any inconvenience caused. Make sure it comes off as genuine and not like a rehearsed line that you just automatically say. Inject empathy while acknowledging their pain, and then summarize the concern. This helps clear the air, and clarify what the problem is.


It helps to display a concerned and thoughtful front throughout the situation. This could soothe them, and provide a space where you can begin to lead them towards a possible solution.  


Offer Options


Once you hear out their problem, assure them that you will do whatever it takes to address the situation (but don’t over promise and under deliver). Explain what their options are, or what the company can do to improve their experience. If they are looking to resolve a query, then address this as soon as possible.


If you are unable to get to a solution quickly, communicate this, fix a follow-up call, and then actually follow through. There is nothing more off putting than being transferred to another department or being put on hold at this point, as this only increases frustration.


Go the Extra Mile


How can you go above and beyond to help the customer and restore their trust in your company? If you had a chance to review their account, did you see anything that you could offer, or a suggestion or improvement that could help? If policy allows it, are you able to offer a refund or discount? Perhaps you could send a follow-up email summarizing the solution and offer resources, content and tips within the email.


Taking the extra effort to delight the customer goes a long way in repairing the relationship and rebuilding the trust.


A Culture of Empathy


Apart from training your customer support agents by exposing them to as many different situations as possible, it's imperative to encourage a culture of empathy and compassion. A genuine interest in serving the customer is required, as well as excellent communication skills and on-the-spot resourcefulness.


When you're dealing with a difficult customer, it helps to actively listen, remain calm under pressure, offer a genuine apology, and then provide a list of options that can address their needs. At the end of the interaction, you would have successfully managed to get a grip on the situation, and patiently learned during the experience.


High Rates of Customer Satisfaction = Customer Success


Have a protocol in place by providing clear guidelines for your customer service agents to follow when faced with difficult client situations. Make sure the above tactics are shared widely and applied consistently across your company’s customer service channels.


This will enhance the overall quality of customer support interactions, leading to higher rates of customer satisfaction and customer success.


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