Featured: How to handle difficult customers

Discussion in 'Self Improvement and Being Successful' started by Nazreen, Jun 18, 2008.

  1. Nazreen

    Nazreen
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,727
    Likes Received:
    40
    A difficult customer is the one thing that most in the customer service industry doesn't want to encounter. I've been in the customer service industry for almost half of my life and I've had my share of difficult customers. I do hope that you won't encounter any but if you do, here are some suggestions.

    1. The first thing you need to do is to stay calm. It wouldn't do to get to an argument with your customers.
    2. Stay courteous at all times.
    3. When the customer is angry, use an even and understanding tone to calm the customer.
    4. You also mustn't endure or be subjected to physical abuse or profane language. Inform the customer that you need to call security or end the call if they continue with their abusive behavior.
    5. Listen to them. Sometimes the customer just had a bad day so if you listen with understanding, you'll already be able to come up with a solution.
    6. When you've identified the problem, make sure that you and the customer agree on what the problem is.
    7. Determine who the right person to resolve the problem is. If you're not the one, assist the customer in connecting to the appropriate person.
    8. If you're the appropriate person, take action to resolve the problem.
    9. Apologize for the inconvenience caused.
    10. Following up is also important to make sure that the customer is satisfied with the resolution of the problem.

    If handled correctly, a difficult customer can even become your loyal customer because people look for businesses that cares for and understands it's customers.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  2. CLSbrunette

    CLSbrunette
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 18, 2008
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    1
    I've had a short stint in customer service. Apparently, I am more comfortable with marketing; hence, I ventured off into that career instead. But my customer service experience is worth sharing:

    One thing I learned is patience. Since I was handling a telecommunications account, most of the customers there are irate. It pays to turn deaf to them most of the time when they throw all stones at you.

    Another thing is to make use of every moment to learn the products and services of the company you are working for. Maximize time, they say.

    Third one would be to stay calm always and always. :)
     
  3. Nazreen

    Nazreen
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,727
    Likes Received:
    40
    Thanks CLSbrunette. I guess I missed this one. Knowledge is also very important in order to effectively handle difficult customers. You and the staff handling complaints, should also be fully trained in the products and services that your company provides. Without this knowledge, you will be at a loss when a customer asks a question about your products and/or services.
     
  4. Fergal

    Fergal
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Premium Member
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2007
    Messages:
    10,575
    Likes Received:
    1,165
    Great tips there Nazreen, thanks for sharing. I've worked in telephone customer service myself and the points you mention are very relevant to that environment, as are the additional suggestions by CLSbrunette.

    You are absolutely correct in your point 9 on apologising. However, when you are apologising, you often need to be careful that your apology is not an acceptance of fault on behalf of your company. This could get you in trouble if the customer is irate, yet your company is not responsible for any error.
     
  5. Nazreen

    Nazreen
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,727
    Likes Received:
    40
    When the customer is irate and/or frustrated, that's the time to employ point nbr 3. But yes, there are some instances where the company or staff is not responsible for the mistake. You are right in that regard because apologizing for something that the company is not responsible for will just make matters worse.

    I also encountered this kind of situation while working as a customer service officer in one of the local banks in Singapore. I was accused of pocketing the customers money by an elderly man. I did what anyone in my position would do - I referred him to my branch manager and it even escalated and he made a police report. Upon reviewing the tapes, the police concluded that I was innocent and the man did receive his money. We never did apologize to him and he also didn't apologize to me as well.

    I think that the elderly man was already senile but in order to prevent this from happening again, my branch manager asked that his account be closed and be banned from doing transactions with our banks anymore.
     
  6. Fergal

    Fergal
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Premium Member
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2007
    Messages:
    10,575
    Likes Received:
    1,165
    Just goes to show that the customer isn't always right.

    Sometimes we can pacify the situation by empathising with the customer and sympathising with their predicament, without actually apologising for any action of our own or our company's.

    We might say things like "I'm sorry you feel that way" or "I'm sorry that you have had that experience". This allows us to use the "sorry" word without accepting responsibility for any wrongdoing.
     
  7. Nazreen

    Nazreen
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,727
    Likes Received:
    40
    The thing to note is that when a customer accuses us or our company of any mistakes or wrongdoing, we shouldn't get very defensive. Being defensive will only make matters worse and will probably make the customer angrier and more frustrated.

    Empathizing with the customer would be a very good way to handle this situation. Let them get all their frustrations out. It may take some time for them to blow off steam but surely they will, so just give them time and be patient.
     
  8. DEADMAN

    DEADMAN
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2008
    Messages:
    641
    Likes Received:
    3
    Difficult Customers get arraised to you whenever they've unsatisfactory results on your products or from their personal life. They may start giving you harsh feedbacks for your products which maybe actually good for 100s of other customers.

    What I learnt from these type of customers is that you should always listen to them more and speak less. Use of Nice Speech is another best measure and often providing them some drinks or glass of water would help rather more. Try to understand what they're trying to say. They may not be actually complaining about your products but the complain created from their personal lifes and they're throwing their anger at your products. The best measure would be to stop conversation very soon in order to reduce huge confrontation and always have polite language so that they can understand that you were meant to understand them and they might stop with these kind of formulas.
     
  9. Fergal

    Fergal
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Premium Member
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2007
    Messages:
    10,575
    Likes Received:
    1,165
    As has been suggested already, the most important thing you can do to calm an angry customer is to listen to them. The very fact that they are listened to, is sometimes enough for the customer to work out the issue for themselves and to feel happy that there complaint has been taken seriously.

    First time customers who have an issue with your product or service will often become loyal long term customers of your business, if their complaint is listened to and taken seriously.

    Research has shown that customers who have a complaint successfully resolved, become more loyal than customers of your business who have never had a complaint.
     
  10. Nazreen

    Nazreen
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,727
    Likes Received:
    40
    Speaking of first-time customers, I think that customer service personnel should exercise more patience with them. The reason they might be complaining is that they don't fully understand the product or service that your company provides. If this is the case, it would just be a simple matter of explaining the company's product and/or services to them. Also, taking the time to make sure that they've understood clearly can also sometimes lighten up the employee's workload.

    There were a couple of times when I had to explain to some elderly people how to use the atm and the cash deposit machines when I was still working as a front-line staff in a local bank. By doing this, I had decreased our staff's workload because instead of transacting over-the-counter, our customers will now go to the atm machines instead.
     
  11. b4db0y

    b4db0y
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    New Member

    Joined:
    Jun 7, 2008
    Messages:
    14
    Likes Received:
    0
    thanks Fergal. It really helps in the Webhosting buisness
     
  12. harmin

    harmin
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2008
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    0
    I agree with you Nazreen.Handle a difficult customer is like a win a race.In such difficult we need to be have a cool mind and be aware about the customer needs and try to make understand them about the features of product.
     
  13. Nazreen

    Nazreen
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,727
    Likes Received:
    40
    Thanks harmin! Yes, it's a win-win situation for your business or company if your customer service staff are able to handle difficult customers effectively.

    I think there's one tip that I forgot to mention in my first post and that is to remember to greet your customers. Just saying "Good morning sir/maam" will work wonders and often make the customers less heated and angry.
     
  14. harmin

    harmin
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2008
    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    0
    Hello everybody.Its really a great job to handle a difficult customers.While handling such customers,one should have a very cool mind and also a good listener and have a curiosity to know the customer's exact demand.Only then,it will be quite easy to deal with any customers.
     
  15. Kay

    Kay
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,816
    Likes Received:
    21
    Handling The Customer From Hell

    I wrote this article and hope it's useful to someone. :)


    Handling The Customer From Hell

    Almost anyone who has worked with the public has a horror story to tell about a difficult customer. I’m talking about a particular type here: the usually loud, upset, sometimes aggressive or intimidating ones.

    Having worked in Customer Service and administrative roles for two decades, I’ve had my fair share and over the years I’ve learned that there are right and wrong ways to deal with them. Remember, the route you choose can mean the difference between them leaving happy or vowing never to spend another penny with your company again!

    I’ll be sharing some suggestions that may help you turn the tide in your favor the next time you’re faced with The Customer from Hell. It’s worth noting that many of these ideas can just as easily be applied to internal customers (such as people from other departments that you sometimes do some work for) as external. It all goes towards the goal of maintaining as harmonious a workplace atmosphere as possible.


    Things to Keep in Mind When Dealing with Difficult Customers


    #1. Do listen to them carefully.

    Sounds simple, doesn’t it? In reality, it can be very hard if someone is upset or angry to pay attention to what they’re saying rather than looking for an escape route. They may after all have a valid complaint, and you’ll only find that out if you can determine the source of it. Make a real effort to use active listening, noting mentally what your understanding of their complaint is. Concentrate fully on what’s being said. Beware though of taking too many notes while they’re talking. The customer may get the impression that you are ignoring them, or worse still, doodling on a notepad because you don’t care less.

    If you wish to take notes, ask them for permission as a courtesy. Make it clear why you are writing something down or keying information into a computer (usually to ensure that there is a record of the complaint on file). Some people do get a bit paranoid when they can’t see exactly what you’ve input. Personally, I always turned my monitor to show it to the customer when I had finished logging a complaint so that they could review its accuracy. If you’re thinking you’ll try that next time, always check with your superior that you wouldn’t be breaking any rules by doing so well ahead of time.



    #2. Do let them finish what they’re saying before responding.

    There’s probably nothing more irritating to a customer whose blood is already boiling than being interrupted. Save any questions if at all possible until they have finished their tirade. Once they have, use this moment to ask about taking notes. Reiterate your understanding of the complaint’s nature in a summarized fashion to check that you have it right before proceeding.

    For the purposes of example, we’ll call our fictitious customer Mr. Jones. It may be helpful to say something like, “I’m sorry that you’re unhappy, Mr. Jones. I’d like to help sort this out to your satisfaction, so I just want to check that I have understood the facts before we go any further.” Whether or not you agree with him is immaterial at this point. If the customer feels that you have in fact been taking what he says seriously, then you’re halfway there to resolving the situation.

    In my experience, many will actually become calmer once they realize that you’re going to give it your best shot. (I’m assuming here that you do really want to do your job well and bring this to a satisfying and mutually acceptable close.) The customer’s had the opportunity to let off steam and like a balloon, chances are that once he’s went up, he’ll come down again.



    #3. Do give the customer your full name and contact number if your company policy allows you to do so.

    This will help you establish a connection with the customer and reinforces the sentiment that you really do want to help. If you can give them a business card with your details on it, so much the better. In these days of faceless call centers, it’s just too easy for an employee to say whatever they like and not be held accountable for any promises or claims that they have made because no one knows who said it in the first place.

    Many times, I found myself on the receiving end of an irate customer who had been told complete rubbish by one of the aforementioned faceless employees, only to speak to me next and be given the bad news. Of course, as I was in front of them, I got the brunt of their anger. Which brings me nicely to point four:



    #4. Don’t take it personally when a customer gets mad.

    It’s not usually you that Mr. Jones is mad at, it’s your company in some shape or form or the actions of someone within your company. ( If it is your mistake, it’s actually easier to deal with because you’ll know exactly what went wrong. Hold your hands up, explain what went wrong honestly, apologize sincerely, and get it sorted out ASAP.) To him, you ARE the company and therefore deserve to be the focus of his wrath.

    Keep your cool and an emotional distance from it all to avoid either losing your temper or crying your eyes out right there and then. The more professional and polished an outward appearance you have, the more likely the customer is to feel that you will deal with his complaint in a similar vein.

    If you resort to Cardinal Sin #1- shouting back at him, or Cardinal Sin #2- rolling your eyes at your co-worker when you think the customer’s not looking (trust me, they’ll see it), don’t expect to keep your job long.

    You just inflamed the situation a hundred times over, your superiors will probably hear of it and you’ll quite possibly be reprimanded, fired or asked to resign without a reference, none of which are good options.

    Customer Service is a key component of good industrial practices and one that no company can afford to underestimate the importance of. As an employee, neither should you. Always be well mannered and polite. Show Mr. Jones the respect that you would like him to be showing you by the time he leaves.

    If you feel that you’re getting to the point where you’re ready to lose it, then say “Excuse me one moment, please, Mr Jones,” and go get another staff member or your boss to take over. It’s better to be kicking boxes or bawling your eyes out in the stationery cupboard than losing your job.

    To work in Customer Service, you need to develop the patience of a saint and the hide of a rhino. If you find yourself lacking in either attribute, then you may want to consider asking for either a transfer to another department or additional training from Personnel on handling these very circumstances.


    #5. Do make some kind of affirmation that shows that you’re listening throughout.

    Even if it’s only a nod and an occasional ‘uh huh’ or ‘yes’ in a positive tone, it’s better than staring blankly at him like a rabbit caught in the headlights. The goal is to convey an air of approachability, interest and concern. Maintain good eye contact- again, no staring- and keep your body language open, not closed.

    This means sitting with either your hands on your lap or standing with your arms at your side, rather than crossing them tightly across your chest. That action just screams defensiveness before you even open your mouth. Another example of positive body language that shows you’re being attentive is to lean slightly towards rather than away from the customer.

    When you do speak, use a calm, clear and measured tone. If you find that the customer simply will not let you speak, then wait until he does. Silence can be a powerful tool. It doesn’t normally take long for it to register that you are no longer responding vocally to what is being said. When asked why, that’s your chance to respond.

    Resist the temptation to yell ” Because you won’t shut up!” for the reasons given in point #4. A more neutral answer would be, ” Because I was allowing you to finish what you were saying. May I say something now?” Inevitably, the customer will say yes. If, by the remotest of chances, they say no, be aware that you may be dealing with someone that falls into the ‘escorted off the premises by Security’ category.


    Safety First


    Which brings me to an important point: you may think that this scenario is unlikely to happen, but it has already in workplaces up and down the country. Sometimes the situation can turn very ugly as tempers flare. If you feel that there is the slightest chance that the customer may become violent, ensure that you are not alone with Mr. Jones. It’s not a good idea to take him into an interview room for a private discussion because you’re trying to avoid the stares of other customers if it might result in being physically attacked. Have some sort of barrier between you, even if it’s only a desk.

    Ideally, there would be another member of staff alongside you or very close by that you can send a covert prearranged signal to if you feel that there is a real danger present. The advantage of this is that they can intervene before or if the situation turns ugly and you have a witness to the event. There are times when you may not be able to do anything apart from call Security to remove the customer because of their threatening behavior. Even though it should probably be a last resort, it’s still an option that’s there to protect staff and other customers that should be utilized when necessary.

    Check with your manager or Personnel what route you’d be expected to take if that happens before it does and you will be prepared for anything. I hope that you never have to experience that situation, but it’s always wise to err on the side of caution.

    (cont'd below)
     
    • Like Like x 1
  16. Kay

    Kay
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,816
    Likes Received:
    21
    So How’s It All Going So Far?

    Let’s have a quick recap here: you’ve listened in an active fashion to the nature of the complaint, without interrupting or losing track of what exactly the complaint is. You’ve taken notes, mentally first then documented it with the customer’s permission granted beforehand.

    You’ve clarified anything that you were unclear on and have a full understanding of why he’s upset. You have reassured the customer that you are ready and willing to help sort it out to the best of your ability and the customer has recognized that by your actions.

    You’ve presented a professional front by both staying calm and courteous. You’ve given your full name or business card to Mr. Jones (company policy permitting) for future reference, all the while demonstrating positive, open and non threatening body language. Lastly, you’ve taken steps to protect yourself if things turn sour.

    Good for you! You’re a credit to both yourself and your employer. By now, if life is in any way fair, Mr. Jones should be in a decidedly better frame of mind than he was when he walked in.


    Resolution and Completion: Questions to Ask Yourself

    So where to start in actually resolving the problem? I’m assuming here that the complaint is indeed a valid one. You need to ask yourself a few questions first:

    Can I resolve this alone? If so, do it as quickly and with as little fuss as possible.

    If I can’t, who can? Contact the person or department best suited to deal with it speedily. If you don’t know who it will be, find out by asking your boss or colleagues, or perhaps contacting the switchboard operator - she usually has a good handle on who does what in a large company.

    What if the person is unavailable to deal with it, or the resolution is going to take a few days or more? That being the case, you need to take responsibility for seeing Mr. Jones’ complaint through. You’ve already given him your name. You’ll be his first point of contact if nothing happens, therefore it’s in your best interests too that you ensure the complaint is followed up and not gathering dust in someone else’s in-tray.

    Otherwise you undo all the good work you have done up till now and Mr Jones won’t see you as a professional person anymore. Do you really want that to happen because of another person’s inaction? No, neither would I.

    Advise the customer about the nature of the delay, agree to contact them at a specific time and date to keep them updated, and most importantly of all, DO IT. Mr. Jones is not going to be ecstatic, but at least he’ll know that something is being done and you’ll be keeping tabs on it.

    Remember, no matter whether you can resolve it right away or it falls under the remit of another, always take the following steps:


    Golden Rules for Complaint Handling

    * Thank the customer for bringing the complaint to your attention.
    * Apologize sincerely for the error/delay/faulty product.
    * Explain what happened honestly and succinctly.
    * Advise him what steps are being taken to sort it out and what time frame to expect that to happen in.
    * Keep the customer informed throughout and make sure that you have his contact number as well as giving your own.
    * Check and double check that all promises made to the customer, both by yourself and coworkers, are kept.
    * Learn the lessons from the complaint to prevent it reoccurring and share what you learned with coworkers.


    Building the Bridges To A Happy Customer

    When you have time in your work schedule, it’s always a nice gesture to make a follow up phone call to the customer a week or so after the complaint has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. A quick call to check if you can be of service in any other way can go a long way towards repairing any damage done previously by the complaint.

    There’s nothing more gratifying to me than hearing a ‘thank you’ over the phone or in a letter from a once disgruntled customer like Mr. Jones and knowing that you did your job well.

    For most customers who’ve made a complaint, it’s a pleasant surprise to receive this kind of courtesy call. In my experience, the majority of difficult customers tend to forgive any problems if they are resolved in a timely and satisfactory manner and will happily do business with your company in the future.

    To me, that’s what real, committed Customer Service is all about- serving the customer just as diligently and conscientiously when they’re unhappy as when they are not. Who knows, next time it may be you that’s Mr. Jones. How would you like to be treated?

    :)
     
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Nazreen

    Nazreen
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Messages:
    1,727
    Likes Received:
    40
    Hi Kay, welcome to the Business Advice Forum. Are you the Kay Elizabeth from Hill Holler blog?

    I just saw the article above from this blog.
    Part 1
    Part 2

    As I was once in customer service before, I have already made a thread on this - How to handle difficult customers. However, your article has a lot of good insights in handling customers from hell. :) Thanks a lot for that!
     
  18. Kay

    Kay
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,816
    Likes Received:
    21
    I am indeed. :) If I'd seen yours, I'd have held back with mine but I'm just finding my feet here and hadn't got to it yet. Thanks for the welcome!

    I've worked in banking too actually, same as you. I think one of us needs to write a handling the staff from Hell piece...sometimes they can be worse than the customers! ;)

    I related very much to what you said about helping the elderly with the ATM as I'd came to the same conclusions myself in our branch. I think sometimes customer service staff get very jaded listening to complaints and are too quick to be dismissive of the customer's needs that's standing in front of them.

    I don't know how many times I heard some give them same robotic response without really listening to what was being said and that individual's situation. Half the time they were replying before the person had finished talking! Perhaps it depends on your own nature but I simply didn't treat customers as if they were a number.

    But I'm rambling now! :D Nice to meet you, Navreen. I've enjoyed your posts and hope to read many more. They've been insightful indeed and I love to learn as well as share what I can when I can. When you give, you get I think. :) Thanks again for sharing your experience so freely.
     
  19. Fergal

    Fergal
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Premium Member
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2007
    Messages:
    10,575
    Likes Received:
    1,165
    Threads merged, thanks Nazreen.

    Thanks for sharing that article with us Kay, there are some great tips there for handling difficult customers. Please note that when you are referring to an article in your blog or site you can link to it and provide a summary of the main points here, you don't need to copy and paste the whole article.

    I particularly like the point you make about giving the customer your contact details. This can be very reassuring from a customer's perspective. It is great to have the name of an individual who cares about your issue and has taken ownership of the customer problem.
     
  20. deepak_sharma

    deepak_sharma
    uix_expand uix_collapse
    Member

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2008
    Messages:
    161
    Likes Received:
    1
    Ya I completely agree with Nazreen on the note that you have to maKe your customer feel that they are important.Also i find above mentioned points very helpful in dealing diffcult customers.
     

Share This Page