We have all been the customer, many of us have likely dealt with customers at one time or another but, one thing is for certain: they are the reason a lot of people have jobs! Every position that I have ever had has been customer service related, so, you could call me somewhat of an expert. Whether you work in clothing retail (my forte) or in the food service industry, knowing how to deal with a difficult customer is of high importance. So, how do we communicate with those tough “let me speak to your manager” folks? Here are a few tips.
First, remain calm. Nothing is worse than getting in a “who’s right” battle with a customer. While the customer is explaining why they are upset/need more information take a few breaths to level yourself. While you’re remaining/calming yourself it’s important to use reflective listening. Reflective listening is a tactic that shows the customer that you actually are listening rather than just trying to appease them. Instead of responding with a “I totally understand…” try responding to their frustration with “So what I am hearing is…” and reflect what they have said to you. This way your customer is feeling heard and valued.
Thank your customer for bringing this issue to attention. Just simply thanking the customer shows that you’re willing to assist them and may even calm their anger. If you’re working IT, throughout a phone conversation, keep thanking them by saying “thank you for bearing with me as I troubleshoot this problem.” This shows that you’re actively working on the problem as well. Saying “thank you for helping our team become better” is a great way to end a negative call/conversation.
But, before ending a conversation, explain the steps you’ll be taking to solve the problem. This creates a timeline for customers to follow so they know you’re being proactive. List out each step you’ll take to solve the problem and what customers should expect to see from each step. If needed, set up a follow-up. Hopefully, in most cases, there will be no need to follow-up. But, if it’s needed, setting up a time to follow-up on the problem being solved shows your customer that you want to make sure all is right.
Be sincere. Remaining calm with an upset customer is very important but, so is being sincere. Customers can tell when you’re speaking with an angry or patronizing tone. Be respectful because no one likes being undermined in a conversation. Yes, as an employee at your workplace it’s highly likely that you know a bit more about your work than a customer does. But this does not mean that you have the right to be rude. With that being said, if a customer is being disrespectful to you or if you feel threatened in any way, ending the call or stepping away to get a manager or another employee involved is okay. You have a right to feel safe in your workplace. Being aware of your verbal and non-verbal cues is an important skill to have. When listening to a customer try to make eye contact so they know you’re listening. Try not to interrupt and make sure your voice is at a level tone. Also, be aware of facial expressions, I used to accidentally roll my eyes when people would raise their voices at me. This was wrong, 100%, but it was my reaction to feeling uncomfortable (don’t worry this habit has been stopped). Some people may have negative facial expressions and not even know it! Try to be aware of what you may be showing the customer.
Letting go of fear is another important aspect of problem solving. More often than not we fear a negative outcome with a customer. Your job is not to produce an instantaneous solution. Fear doesn’t help our problem-solving skills and tends to make us want to control things. We may fear that we may lose our relationship with the customer because we can’t fix the problem in front of us. There are certain problems that can’t be fixed because of policy. The best we can do is listen, understand, and explain what steps to take moving forward.
Use your support system. That’s right call in the manager! When you’ve done all, you can to ease your customer’s problems and they are still unsatisfied, using your support system is great! With some difficult customers they will demand to speak to a manager in the first place, if that is so, go get them and save the trouble of escalating the situation. Most managers are trained to deal with difficult customers and have likely given off more authority. Never be afraid to ask for help.
Also, never take anything personally. This is something that I had to learn over and over again until my skin was thick as nails. If a customer is upset, don’t take it personally. Their anger has nothing to do with you or your work. They had a certain expectation of an outcome and didn’t receive it. If the issue actually was your mistake taking responsibility is important but, move on after correcting it. There is no need to get upset if your customer is angry because their coupon expired 3 months ago. That’s not your fault.
Go on. After all is said and done, you have to carry on. Unfortunately, conflict is a part of the service industry. There will always be people who be a bit harder to work with than others. That doesn’t mean your place of work cannot be a joy to work in. The important thing is to make sure that you have the correct tools to battle such issues with grace. And as they say, “the customer is always right” (even though that may not always be the case).