There’s nothing more frustrating in business than difficult, or intransigent customers or clients. Whether it’s your fault, one of your staff members, a supplier, or simply an impossible-to-please customer there’s no way to avoid them from time to time. Given that we all have to face these people, here are a few ways to minimize the impact on yourself, your company, your employees and your bottom line.
When you are dealing with a difficult customer, or worse a persistently negative one, it’s easy to start feeling angry or upset when you see them coming. It’s also easy to make judgments and assumptions about them, and label them – malcontent, disruptive, or complainer. These negative emotions, however, will hamper your ability to deal with the customer effectively. You might, for instance, immediately dismiss their concern or complaint in your mind and set out to simply pacify and get rid of them rather than truly resolve the issue. When you allow your own negative thoughts to take over, it comes out in your body language. People prone to negativity may unconsciously try to mirror that, or will respond to it with defensiveness making it even more difficult to solve the problem.
Instead, give your customer the benefit of the doubt. Assume they are coming to you with a valid concern and really listen to what they have to say. If you truly listen and hear what they have to say and don’t judge, you might be surprised at the response you get, and how much better you’ll feel.
Someone once said that negative behaviour is almost always rooted in fear. When you look at some of the negative experiences you’ve had with people, you will probably recognize this to be largely true. Unfortunately, it takes some digging to figure out what that fear is, in order to understand why they’re behaving the way they are. For example, perhaps a few years ago your customer was treated rudely and dismissively by one of your staff. They didn’t have the courage to come to you with it directly, but it tainted their perspective on the kind of treatment they can expect from your business. Perhaps they really like your product or service and that’s why they continue to come back, but their fear (and perhaps even expectation) of being mistreated by your staff puts them on the offensive. So, the belligerent behaviour they display is actually the way they protect themselves from being hurt. It’s always easier to offer someone compassion if you understand where they’re coming from. That doesn’t excuse their bad behavior but if you take the time to try to get to the core of why they are behaving in a certain way, you might be able to resolve a deeply rooted issue, and turn that customer around for good.
This takes some skill, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to bring that customer around. Skill, because it’s about more than just acquiescing and giving in to their demands; demands that give them all the control and which make you powerless. It’s also more than trying to manipulate someone’s emotions by bribing them with stuff, just to pacify them. The skill lies in creating a win/win, where you’re in control but the customer gets some kind of satisfactory resolution. Most customers don’t actually expect you to give them everything they ask for, but they do expect something. So, find that something! For instance, you might say, “I realize you want a full refund on that product, but in fairness you’ve been using it for six months and we can no longer take it back. Here’s what we CAN do. We’ll give you a pro-rated refund for the remaining six months, which you can use toward purchasing a new product.” Or, in the example earlier, “The employee who treated you rudely is no longer working for us, but on behalf of our company I’d like to offer you my sincerest apology. We value your business, so here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll give you my private business phone number. If you ever feel one of my employees has been anything less than professional and customer-focused, please give me a call, and I will do my best to resolve the situation immediately.” Every business will be different in terms of what they are able to offer. In almost all cases, giving the customer something will reduce their negativity and turn their attitude around.
It’s tough not to take it personally when someone is continually throwing stones, but many times it’s not personal. It’s about what that customer is going through in his or her life that puts them in that negative frame of mind. When you’re under extreme stress at work, or at home, it takes very little to set you off – someone cutting you off in traffic, being kept waiting for an appointment, or a customer service representative who tells you they can’t do what you’re asking. When you know you haven’t done anything wrong, step back from the emotions you’re feeling and assume the negative behaviour is coming from something that has nothing to do with you. When you are disconnected from that defensive emotion, you can more clearly see your way to resolving the issue. However, be big enough to listen to the customer’s concerns and determine whether you should shoulder some of the responsibility, and if so then humbly accept it. Apologize, express your desire to change the situation, and then do whatever it takes to make restitution. That will keep customers coming back.
When you’ve got lots of currency in the relationship bank with your customers, they are way more likely to forgive an error or misdeed than if they barely know you. Build relationships with your customers all year long. Listen to their stories, be invested in their lives, treat them with kindness and respect, respond to their concerns. Doing this builds your credibility and creates a cushion for when things do go wrong. That way you’ll have earned your customers’ respect and will likely be able to resolve things quickly when an issue arises.
Every business sometimes faces negative and difficult customers. Following these tips will help you to minimize the impact, get to solutions faster, and turn negatives into positives for your business.
Trenval Business Development Corporation is Bay of Quinte’s Community Futures Business Specialist, financing business start-ups, expansions or successions in the Quinte region for 34 years. Trenval can help with small business support including small business funding and small business loans.