Dealing with difficult customers

by Leon Gettler | |   Managing People
Dealing with difficult customers

Dealing with difficult customers is a challenge but then, that’s why CEOs and managers are put into an authority position

The customer is always right but that doesn’t mean the customer is always easy to deal with. Anyone who has run a business will tell you there are all sorts of difficult customers. They can be angry, rude, indecisive, impatient, intimidating, talkative and demanding. It’s a challenge to deal with them but then, that’s why CEOs and managers are put into an authority position.

According to the Construction Equipment Distribution magazine, one should never assume that staff know how to handle difficult customers. You have to train them.

There are some basic rules:
•    Staff have to know where to find every part so they can put their hands on it when customers need it.
•    CEOs should have a team at the ready who are trained to locate parfts when they can’t find them within 30 minutes.
•    Check and double check every sales or maintenance entry on every order, every day.
•    They have to keep customers and sales teams informed when a problem occurs.
•    They have to make sure every employee has a sense of urgency to service customers and each other extremely well.
•    If the company sends a tech out, and they’ll be more than 10 minutes late, they have to make sure he or she calls the customer to let them know.
•    If a customer is waiting for important information and they’re held up, call to let them know it’s on the front burner and that you will call as soon as you have the answer.
•    Never make a promise you can’t keep.
•    Never make a customer wait a week before sending someone out.

The people at Davidson Trahaire Corpsych say employees need to be skilled in a number of areas when handling difficult customers. They need skills in:

Assessment: This relates to their ability to recognise in themselves that their emotional response to the situation is changing, as well as recognising that the situation may be escalating in terms of the customer's behaviour.

Monitoring: Staff members need to be able to monitor both their emotional response, and any mental processes that they experience during the interaction with the customer. For example, staff need to be able to work with customers and not jump to conclusions about the customer, make too many generalisations about the customer or the outcome, or to take the situation too personally.

Active Listening, Questioning and Clarification:These are important skills for staff to learn in order to identify what the customer is seeking and to ensure that s/he has understood the entire situation.

Defusing skills: The ability to defuse a situation may involve skills such as appropriate questioning techniques, focusing on the problem at hand, using humour where appropriate, and using delay strategies to assist the situation.

Negotiation and Limit Setting: In some customer situations, it may be appropriate and possible to negotiate an outcome that is agreeable to both parties. With others, for example, in healthcare settings, it may be necessary to set limits with customers in order to clear up misunderstandings, and stay focused on the situation rather than surrounding problems or difficulties.

Ric Willmot, the CEO of Executive Wisdom Consulting Group, has a more radical solution: increase your profits by losing the worst of them. “Most small businesses can afford to release 10-15% of their client base every two years, thereby releasing the business from unenjoyable work and freeing up time to look for class-A clients”

How have you trained your people to deal with difficult clients?