It is not simple for a business to be successful in this area but with the correct knowledge and elbow grease it becomes attainable. The true challenge arises when customer service must handle a difficult customer, especially around the holiday season. Christmas can be a stressful time as stores and online retailers see some of their highest level of demand. Customers are looking for the perfect gift and when this level of need is not met the customer business relationship can become a little hairy. The goal of customer service is to ensure that a customer leaves satisfied and with a positive view of the company.
Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby, summed this up, “The single most important thing is to make people happy. If you are making people happy, as a side effect, they will be happy to open up their wallets and pay you.”
With the holiday season here, it is critical to understand how to deal with difficult customers during the holiday season. We connected with a few business executives to identify their methods.
Quick to listen, slow to speak
WOW Skin Science is a brand offering vegan, plant powered skincare products. Their co-founder, Ashwin Sokke, believes that customer service should employ the tactic of intentionally hearing any complaint to its full extent before offering a response.
“One of the quickest ways to irritate a customer further is to cut them off before they’ve said their piece. I do understand that customer complaints can pile up and become a list needing to be worked through but a customer should be a valued asset to a company and treated accordingly, especially when frustrated. Be sure to let the customer tell you their side of the story and their specific issues. One of the reasons they’re complaining is because they want to be heard and valued. Once that has been done, work towards a solution.”
Be personal and professional
A difficult customer believes their issue is important otherwise they would not be taking the time to voice it. For this reason, and for the sake of the business relationship, be certain to behave in a manner that is appropriate and considerate. Ben Teicher, the president and CEO of Healthy Directions, a company focused on nutritional supplements and expert guidance, said as much.
“Take the customer seriously; that should be a top priority. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Avoid looking off in the distance or at something other than the customer. Use the customer’s name when addressing them. Be aware of your body language. Focus on being mentally present in the conversation. People can intuitively feel when they’re not being valued and a feeling like that could easily escalate the already tense situation.”
Put yourself in their shoes
Danielle Calabrese is the COO of De La Calle, a business which produces a Mexican probiotic beverage which has been fermented. She suggests taking on the mental perspective of the difficult customer in order to gain better understanding.
“People are vastly different from each other because of their learned experiences, culture, and viewpoints. You can’t pretend to know or make sense of everything a person is feeling but by asking thoughtful questions and seeking to understand them you can begin to see their side of the story. Doing this should allow you to make sense of their frustration and be more sympathetic to it. If you’re on the same page as them, moving towards resolution should be easier.”
Nailboo is a business that offers an at-home solution to visiting a traditional nail salon. Amanda E. Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer of Nailboo, considers appropriate verbal communication key to securing solutions with difficult customers.
“Good manners can easily be overlooked but they go a long way in tense situations. Be quick to offer an apology for the inconvenience the customer is experiencing. Use titles such as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ in order to communicate respect. Slang words or incomplete sentences can convey a sense of disinterest from the employee and that can turn things south. Going too far in the other direction can cause the interaction to feel robotic which can also be a problem. A customer service experience requires a combination of professional courtesy and personality. This is a delicate but valuable balancing act.”
Imagine an audience
A helpful tactic in the face of customer frustration is to imagine a large group of people are viewing this interaction. Regardless of whether or not this scenario is reality like in a storefront, the mental perception of this can aid in maintaining a sense of internal peace. William Schumacher, the founder and CEO of Uprising Food, a health focused baked-goods company, advises this.
“Tense situations can heighten emotions to places that bring unbecoming behavior or language from either party. My thinking is, ‘If you wouldn’t say it in front of an audience, don’t say it to the customer.’ This perspective allows one to step outside themselves and evaluate the situation and their responses differently. Customer relations is representative of a company. A customer will relay their experience to those close to them which could reflect well or poorly and drive business accordingly.”
Utilize your resources
Nicolas Vasiliou is the CEO of BioHealth Nutrition, a nutrition company featuring products made from algae. He believes that those faced with a difficult customer should not sell themselves short by failing to work through their support system.
“Customer service representatives have managers for a reason – some unreasonable customers simply require the firmer hand of these people. On top of this, representatives working over the phone can request to go on hold in order to seek out more information or opinions from coworkers. Being part of a team is a huge benefit. Running diagnostics, combing through customer receipts, using screen share or even maintaining a dialogue cheat sheet are other ways to ensure success.”
Ignore the fear
Oliver’s Apparel is an activewear brand with a sense of fashion. Their founder and CEO, David Wolfe, realizes that a difficult customer may exhibit angry or confrontational behavior and advises the recipient to set aside uneasiness.
“It’s pretty common for an unhappy customer to yell, curse, behave passive aggressively, and even threaten the customer service representative they are dealing with. Situations like this create immense levels of discomfort for a person whose job it is to work towards customer satisfaction. Pushing back against a difficult person puts the exchange in jeopardy. But it is likely necessary as a difficult customer is often an unreasonable customer. Don’t be afraid to offer the most realistic and helpful solution because that’s the best you can do.”
Communicate all options
Some challenging customers may have unrealistic expectations for the outcome of their issue. The person handling the issue should make it a priority to demonstrate clarity with what the possible solutions entail and what is off limits. Ryan Craver, the founder and CEO of Mallary by Matthew, a curated and sustainable clothing brand, conveyed this.
“As uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes a difficult customer needs to be told no. While this could create more discomfort due to the potential reaction, not all customer suggested solutions are reasonable. Ethics, budgets, technology, and time could all be factors in this decision but giving in to an unobtainable solution only to walk it back will prove even more uncomfortable for everyone involved. Practical solutions are the best for both parties.”
Rym Selmi is the founder of MiiRO, a plant-based treat and baking retailer. She suggests placing an importance on making difficult interactions as smooth as possible by handling them quickly and effectively.
“It’s important to remember that a difficult customer may believe that going through the process of raising an issue with something is a misuse of their time because the issue shouldn’t have happened in the first place. While this may not be true, it’s an understandable consumer perspective. When handling these situations, consider the amount of time and make an effort to keep the interaction as brief as possible. A lengthy interaction will only aggravate the customer further.”
Take care of the customer
Straight Up Growth is an advertising agency specializing in growing brands on Amazon. Their co-founder, Daniel Tejada, believes a business could make a gesture of atonement in order to appease a disgruntled customer.
“If a customer is put off by an interaction or purchase, they may consider it to be a fracture in the relationship they have with a brand. In order to rebuild this relationship, offering a discount, coupons, or service may be a road forward. This solution should be considered on a case-by-case basis as it could be costly. However, retaining a customer may offset this expense.”
Difficult customers should be an expected reality for every company. Each one of them are unique human beings and their displeasure should be treated as such. There is no single solution that applies to every scenario. However, working through these difficulties is necessary in order to maintain a popular and profitable company. Jerry Gregoire, the founder and chairman of Redbird Flight Simulations put it best, “We have entered the era of the customer. Today, providing customers with outstanding customer service is essential to building loyal customers and a long lasting brand.”