Dealing with Difficult Customers
Copyright 2002 by Dave Kahle
It is easy to work with people you like, and it is even easier to work with people who like you. But that's not always case. Sooner or later, you'll have to deal with a difficult customer.
Difficult customers come in a wide variety. There are those whose personality rubs you wrong way. They may not be difficult for someone else, but they are for you. And then there are those who are difficult for everyone: Picky people, know-it-alls, egocentrics, fault-finders, constant complainers, etc. Every salesperson can list a number of types.
But perhaps most difficult for everyone is angry customer. This is someone who feels that he or she has been wronged, and is upset and emotional about it. These customers complain, and they are angry about something you or your company did.
There are some sound business reasons to become adept in handling an angry customer. Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue doing business with your company if they feel that they were treated properly. It's estimated that as many as 90% of customers who perceive themselves as having been wronged never complain, they just take their business elsewhere. So, angry, complaining customers care enough to talk to you, and have not yet decided to take their business to competition. They are customers worth saving.
Not only are there benefits to your company, but you personally gain as well. Become adept at handling angry customers, and youíll feel much more confident in your own abilities. If you can handle this, you can handle anything. While any one can work with easy people, it takes a real professional to be successful with difficult customers. Your confidence will grow, your poise will increase, and your self-esteem will intensify.
On other hand, if you mishandle it, and you'll watch situation dissolve into lost business and upset people. You may find yourself upset for days.
So, how do you handle an angry, complaining customer? Let's begin with a couple tools you can use in these situations.
1. RESPECT. It can be difficult to respect a person who may be yelling, swearing or behaving like a two-year-old. I'm not suggesting you respect behavior, only that you respect person. Keep in mind that 99 times out of 100 you are not object of customer's anger. You are like a small tree in path of a swirling tornado. But unlike small tree, you have power to withstand wind.
What is source of your power? Unlike customer, you are not angry, you are in control, and your only problem at moment is helping him with his problem. If you step out of this positioning, and start reacting to customer in an emotional way, you'll lose control, youíll lose your power, and situation will be likely to escalate into a lose-lose for everyone. So, begin with a mindset that says, "No matter what, I will respect customer."
2. EMPATHY. Put yourself in customer's shoes, and try to see situation from his/her perspective. Don't try and cut him off, don't urge him to calm down. Instead, listen carefully. If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way. Your job is to let customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand source of that frustration. When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message that you care about him and his situation.
Often, as customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve problem, customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way.
Here's how you can use these two tools in an easily-remembered process for dealing with angry customers.
CRACK THE EGG
Image that you have a hard-boiled egg. The rich yellow yolk at center of egg represents solution to customer's problem, hardened white which surrounds yolk represents details of customer's situation, and hard shell represents his/her anger.
In order to get to yolk, and resolve situation, you must first crack shell. In other words, you have got to penetrate customerís anger. Then you've got to cut through congealed egg white. That means that you understand details of customerís situation. Finally, you're at heart of situation, where you can offer a solution to customer's problem.
So, handling an angry customer is like cutting through a hard-boiled egg. Here's a four-step process to help you do so.
1. LISTEN. Let's say you stop to see one of your regular customers. He doesn't even give you time to finish your greeting before he launches into a tirade.
At this point, about all you can do is LISTEN. And that's what you do. You don't try and cut him off, you don't urge him to calm down. Not just yet. Instead, you listen carefully. And as you listen, you begin to piece together his story. He ordered a piece of equipment three weeks ago. You quoted him X price and delivery by last Friday for a project that's starting this week. Not only is equipment not there, but he received an invoice for it at a different price than was quoted.
"What kind of shoddy operation is this?" he wants to know. Do you understand how important his project is? Do you know how much time and money is at stake? If he doesn't get his equipment and something happens to this project, you're going to pay for it. He knew, he just knew he should have ordered equipment from your competitor. What are you going do about it?
Now you have basic story. Hopefully, after this gush of frustration, there will be a pause while he comes up for air.