When working in customer service, it's important to know how to handle difficult customers. Actually, let's change that to be more accurate:
When working in ANY JOB, it's important to know how to handle difficult customers.
All of us can use these lessons. Particularly if we're customer facing, but also if we're interested in any career progression as a majority of management and leadership roles include dealing with angry and difficult customers.
The truth is, customers can become upset for a variety of reasons, and it's essential to be prepared to manage any situation that arises.
Here are some tips and techniques for providing great customer service:
1. Listen carefully to customers
Listening is one of the most important skills in customer service. When customers are upset or frustrated, it's essential to listen to their concerns and try to understand their perspective. By listening carefully, you can identify the root cause of the problem and work to find a solution that meets the customer's needs.
2. Feel your big toe and pause, pause, pause
"Okay, has Jonno lost it?" Good question, but no. Feel your big toe refers to the book about learning to be charismatic. One idea in that book that stuck with me is to be present in the moment by stopping and bringing sensation to your big toe during conversations.
There aren't many conversations as tempting to not be present as a difficult one with a customer! Try this and see if it helps you stop thinking ahead and to be present. The pause, pause, pause is less controversial. Simply pause often after the customer speaks. You'll find after 5 or 10 seconds, they'll pick back up and keep on talking a shocking amount.
Every time this happens, you would have actually interrupted them if you'd spoken. If you can feel your big toe to be present and pause, pause, pause you'll find your listening goes to another level.
3. Be empathetic and understanding
Imagine you're in that customer's shoes. Actually, let's do a quick exercise. When were you last the customer in a difficult situation? What comes to mind? Were you ignored? Could you not get through to the right person? Did they run you around?
Remember how you felt as the customer. How do you wish they treated you? Bring that empathy to the next situation you have with a difficult or angry customer.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. When dealing with difficult customers, it's important to show empathy and understanding. This can help to diffuse the situation and create a more positive interaction.
4. Help them feel heard
One of my favourite quotes is: 'People don't feel heard when YOU understand them. They feel heard when THEY understand that you understand them.' It's a bit of a riddle but the point is when people don't feel heard they feel hurt.
Avoid this with your difficult or angry customer by doing everything you can to communicate and help them understand that you truly do understand. This isn't done by telling them your amazing advice, it's best done by summarizing and repeating back until, as Chris Voss says in his book on negotiating, they say, "That's right."
5. Use positive language
The language you use when communicating with customers can have a significant impact on their experience. Using positive language can help to create a more positive interaction and leave customers feeling more satisfied.
6. Provide clear communication
Here's the trick. That difficult or angry customer? You know, the one you're trying to rationalize with? There's a good chance they're irrational. We get irrational when we're triggered and our fight/flight/freeze is engaged.
Most difficult or angry customers are probably triggered at some level. Because they're triggered, be aware of how important clear communication is going to be. It's always key when dealing with difficult customers. Make sure to explain the situation clearly and provide clear instructions on how to resolve the issue.
7. Use problem-solving techniques
Problem-solving is a critical skill in customer service. You're not this customer's psychiatrist nor are you their counsellor or psychotherapist. But if you can truly understand the problem (and as mentioned above, help them understand that you understand) then you're well on your way to a better outcome.
Use problem-solving techniques to identify the root cause of the problem and work towards a solution that meets the customer's needs.
8. Provide training for employees
As an example, I love watching how paramedics approach a situation. They're highly trained and skilled healthcare professionals. While you and I are screaming and running in circles, they engage the situation calmly and take everything in.
The same can be true for your employees, but only if you provide the necessary training. Instead of flipping out when that difficult or angry customer gets in their face, how can you train them to take everything in? To help the person feel heard? To be a thermostat and set a temperature rather than reacting and moving to the same hot hot hot temperate the customer is at.
Who do you have on your team who is already exceptional at dealing with difficult customers? Get them involved and include training on communication, problem-solving, and empathy to take your employees to the next level.
9. Use customer satisfaction metrics
I recently had a client in the UK who runs a small accounting business run into an issue with her business partner. She had this impression that the employees in their little business were unhappy and everything was falling apart.
The truth was, they'd done employee satisfaction surveys and it just wasn't true! Isn't it funny how even in that small business environment we can misread situations. Don't get me wrong, the opposite is more often true where people think employees are happy but they're actually super disengaged.
The same is true for customers. How happy are your customers? Don't guess! Customer satisfaction metrics can provide valuable insights into the customer experience. By tracking metrics such as customer satisfaction scores and net promoter scores, you can identify areas for improvement and work towards providing a better customer experience.
10. Use social media to connect with customers
Social media can be a valuable tool for connecting with customers. By using social media to engage with customers, you can provide quick and personalized responses to their concerns.
Your social media is also a great place to engaged new customer retention strategies. Customer retention strategies can help to keep customers coming back. This can include strategies such as loyalty programs, personalized experiences, and special offers.
Try these 10 tips the next time you're dealing with a difficult or angry customer and see if they help!
After a challenging few weeks of difficult conversations and picking small battles, it's my hope that you'll find the sailing a lot smoother moving forward.
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