Customer Experience News & Trends

6 sane ways to deal with tough customers

Difficult customers can drive even the calmest customer service pro a little crazy. Fortunately, there are ways to maintain sanity and a strong relationship when dealing with the toughest of the tough.

Dealing with demanding and difficult customers isn’t just a business issue. It can affect the morale of front-line customer service professionals. And at it’s worst, trying situations can take a toll on employees’ health.

That’s why front-line service pros should have a plan for managing relationships and transactions that are less than ideal, says renown customer experience expert and CEO of the marketing agency HB, Nicolas Boillot.

Here’s what the people who deliver your customer experience can do to handle tough situations and customers, according to Boillot:

1. Get more involved

It may seem counter-intuitive to spend more time with customers who you’d rather avoid, but being proactive can pay off. Schedule check-ins and ask customers if there are any issues you need to address. It can be an email, a call or an instant message, but whatever it is, it should be personal. Most importantly, if they refer to an issue, it needs to be taken care of immediately.

Bonus: Over time, this should improve the relationship so it’s not a bother to either of you — and then the frequency of contact can be reduced.

2. Say ‘I’

When dealing with any customer, you want to stay focused on him or her — except when a difficult customer has elevated his tone to yelling. If you talk about how you’re experiencing the situation, you’re more likely to put the customer on the defensive.

Try this: “I have trouble focusing and responding when I hear that tone because I end up feeling like you’re scolding me as if I’m a child.” It’s effective at getting your point across without telling a customer, “You’re inappropriate,” which almost always puts the customer in a defensive mode.

3. Change the venue

Difficult situations can get much worse when they’re allowed to go on and on with no real resolution in sight. When customer experience professionals recognize that they’re going in circles, or the customer will never be happy under the current circumstances, it’s a good time to suggest changing the direction of the conversation.

Recommend a call after a too-long email exchange. Or ask if you can send some material via email for the customer’s review if a phone conversation is going badly. Any heated or complex social media conversation should be taken off-line immediately. Personal visits (by managers or sales pros, if necessary) are in order for potential relationship-breaking circumstances.

4. Call in backup

Almost every front-line customer service pro probably knows to call on a supervisor or veteran colleague to step in when things get really rough or a customer demands “someone in charge.” It’s not only OK to give up the fight, it’s a good idea because it can save the relationship.

But it’s important for the front-liner to learn something from the escalated situation. They want to stay on the line, witness what’s done and how the whole thing is handled to the customer’s satisfaction — and the business’ benefit.

5. Break up

Sometimes difficult customers aren’t worth it. If they take a serious toll on morale and are a regular drain on resources, they probably aren’t worth the business, Boillot says.

Most front-line customer service pros probably don’t have the authority to end a relationship by telling customers where they might be better served. But most companies should have a formal process in place for front-liners to recommend action by the powers-that-be that can either improve or terminate the relationship.

6. Take care

No job is stress free — and one that involves customer care is about the furthest from it. So front-line customer service professionals need a plan or some tactics to maintain their well-being.

Encourage healthy habits and stress relief by offering healthy, high-protein, low-fat snacks in the office and starting a lunchtime walking group, for instance. Some organizations bring a yoga instructor on site once a week, and allow employees to take a breather after a tough interaction.

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