Customer Experience News & Trends

Love or hate ’em, you have to deal with these 6 tough customers

Customers really are a lot like family: Some are as ornery as Uncle Frank, and some are as indecisive as Grandma Ellen. Love or hate them, you have to handle customers at their best and worst. This is how.

Once you recognize the kind of person a difficult customer is, you’ll likely have an easier time helping him or her.

“Sure, there may be the occasional need to fire a client, but for the most part, you can salvage the relationship,” said Andrew Sobel, co-author of Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships. “It’s just a matter of mastering some basic relationship rules and putting them into practice.”

Here’s who you’ll work with at some point:

1. The Boundary Pusher

She perceives no boundaries around you and your company. She expects immediate answers at all hours and days — and complains if she has to wait. Even more, she can’t — and doesn’t want to — distinguish between what’s truly important and what just needs to get done at some point.

To handle this: This is about setting expectations early in the relationship. Explain when your organization responds to calls, emails and social media posts. If she persists, remind her gently in responses like this: “Jill, I’ll respond first thing Monday when I handle customer emails,” or say, “Jill, my priority right now is getting the special order ready like we discussed. Can this wait until Wednesday?”

2. The Know-It-All

He feels he knows more than you. So when he contacts you with an issue, he tells you how to handle it. He may even criticize the suggestions you make to his issues.

To handle this: Establish your authority each time you make contact. For instance, “Over my many years of helping customers in this area, I have found that this is the most effective approach …” Or, “I’ve been known as the expert around here on this subject for 10 years, and this is what works …”

3. The Snob

A few customers will treat you like a supplier, who is essentially below them, and will resist efforts to build a relationship. While it’s OK to maintain a professional relationship, holding you at arm’s length makes it difficult for you to help them completely.

To handle this: Try to uncover their hot buttons — underlying needs, biggest priorities, business agendas. Whether you’re in a service or sales role, if you can uncover their biggest concerns and priorities — and address them — you can establish footing as a knowledgeable adviser who is on equal ground.

4. The Impossible

Nothing you do is ever good enough for her. She can wear you down because whatever you offer — an answer, solution or fix — falls a little short of what she wanted, or she’ll change her mind, and want something different anyway.

To handle this: Before you offer answers and solutions, calibrate expectations. Ask, “What approach worked for you in the past in a situation like this?” or “What would you like to see happen?” Her answer might be in line with what you were thinking, and she can’t argue with a solution she suggested anyway. Well, maybe not.

5. The Tyrant

He’s mean. There’s no other way to put it. He’ll often treat you terribly for no obvious reason. It’ll be a confrontation, regardless of the reason for the call.

To handle this: Follow the old adage, You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Treat them as well as you would any other customer — unless he becomes abusive. Then it’s time to call in a supervisor, and possibly let the customer go.

6. The Uptight Customer

She doesn’t trust others very easily. So it’s especially difficult to establish a relationship and meet her needs. You might suggest a new or different idea or solution that would work best, and she’ll be reluctant to believe you and change.

To handle this: Build trust by staying in contact, explaining what you’re doing to help her and following through on all promises. Give her options when proposing solutions and answers so she feels in control of the situation and eventually considers you a trusted adviser.

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