Dealing with Difficult Customers

Customers! A truly double-edged sword of a word if ever there was one. Especially when you work with them every day. Most of us have worked or do work in positions where we come into contact with customers on a daily basis.  We all know what it’s like to deal with customers—which is usually not too bad. Unless they are Difficult Customers. Since we’ve all worked with customers, we know what it feels like to deal with difficult customers. We’ve all had times when difficult customers have tested our patience, our resolve, and our commitment to provide excellent customer service.

Dealing with difficult customers is one of the most challenging encounters we face. Knowing it will happen and knowing we need to provide excellent customer service means we need a solution or a game plan to effectively prepare for it. That’s what this blog is about.

Difficult customers present various negative emotions. They may be fearful or unhappy, Confused or frustrated. They may even be downright angry!

Whatever the reason, since we know we’re going to be dealing with difficult customers—the very customers who make our jobs possible—we can be, and need to be, prepared to deal effectively with them and their negative emotions.

Let’s start by defining what we mean when we describe a customer as being difficult.

Think about how customers behave when they’re being difficult? What are some reasons why a customer might be difficult?

Do you think they want to be deliberately rude or difficult? Do you think they may have had bad experiences in the past that play a role in the current difficult situation you encounter with them?

It’s important to remember, when you’re confronted with a difficult customer, there’s probably been previous events in their life that have lead them to act out. This does not negate their current issue. But keeping in mind that they’ve had bad experiences prior to the one you’re dealing with will help to keep things in perspective for you.

Think about a specific situation you had with a difficult customer. Why were they being difficult? How did you deal with their negative emotion and their problem? What was the outcome of the conversation or transaction? You may want to write a few words down to help you remember the scenario, because later I’ll ask you to re-visit your thoughts. But before that, I have a few more questions.

In your work as a customer service representative, how do difficult customers make you feel? Can a difficult customer make you feel like a failure?

How do those personal negative feelings impact you in your work day? It’s normal to take customer complaints personally, but don’t! The truth is it usually has little or nothing to do with you personally.

Typically, their negative emotions have more to do with what’s happened before you mixed with what’s happening now and how the current situation stirs up memories from the past apart from you!

Taking your own emotions out of the equation has the effect of making you more objective. When you realize you’re not in the line of fire, you more readily step into being part of the solution. You become less defensive and more effective in finding the right solution.

The first objective then in overcoming difficult customer scenarios is to remove yourself and your emotions from the line of fire.

Let’s go back to your memories of difficult scenarios I asked to remember earlier. Think about how that scenario might have played out differently if you had taken yourself out of the line of fire. How would your more objective self have reacted differently? Would your new attitude have changed the outcome of the encounter? Probably.

In my next installment on this topic, we’ll look further on what good customer service means. In good customer service there are no dictators and no door mats! Don’t be either one—and don’t let your customers be either.


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