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Updated: Jun 16
The customer may always "be right," but that doesn't mean all customers are easy to deal with. Anyone who's ever worked in customer service can tell you, customers can be downright unruly. Still, if you want to stay in business, you've got to deal with them. Finding techniques that help you disarm unhappy customers and win them to your site is the key to providing great customer service – even when you really want to kick nasty customers to the curb.
Mike Effle, CEO of Vendio, a multichannel ecommerce solution, knows a thing or two about how to deal with difficult customers. He offers 10 tips on how to turn a bad customer service situation into an opportunity to improve your business.
First and foremost - listen. Do not try to talk over the customer or argue with them. Let the customer have their say, even if you know what they are going to say next, and even if they may not have all the information or be mistaken. As you listen, take the opportunity to build rapport with the customer.
Build rapport through empathy. Put yourself in the customer's shoes. Echo back the source of their frustration and show that you understand their position and situation. If you can identify with a customer's issue, it will help calm them down. If you verbally "nod" during the call, the customer will feel better understood.
Lower your voice. If the customer gets louder, start speaking more slowly and in a lower tone. Your calm demeanor will reflect on them and will help them to settle down. As you approach the situation with a calm, clear mind, unaffected by the customer's tone or volume, anger will generally dissipate.
Assume all your customers are watching. Pretend you are not talking only to the customer but to an audience that is watching the interaction. This shift in perspective can provide an emotional buffer if the customer is being verbally abusive and will allow you to think more clearly when responding. Since an unruly customer can be a negative referral, assuming they'll repeat the conversation to other potential customers can help ensure you've done your best to address their concerns in a calming way.
Know when to give in. If not satisfying the customer is going to take two hours and a bottle of aspirin and risk negative referrals, it is probably better to draw a compromise a bit more in their favor to give you more time to nurture your more productive customer relationships. Keep in mind that the interaction is not typical of most customers, and that you're dealing with an exception.
Never get angry or upset. If the customer is swearing or being verbally abusive, take a deep breath and continue as if you didn't hear them. Responding in kind will not solve anything, and it will usually escalate the situation in a negative direction. Instead, remind the customer that you are there to help them and their best immediate chance of resolving the situation - often this simple statement will help defuse the situation.
Never take it personally. Always speak to the issue at hand and do not get personal, even if the customer does. Remember that the customer doesn't know you and they're just venting frustration at you as a representative of your company. Gently guide the conversation back to the issue and how you intend to resolve it, and try to ignore personal comments.
Remember that you're interacting with a human. Everyone has bad days. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse, got a traffic ticket that morning or have had a run of bad luck. We've all been there, to some degree. Try to help make their day better by being a pleasant, calming voice – it'll make you feel good too.
If you promise a callback - call back! Even if you promised an update that you don't have yet, call the customer at the scheduled time anyway. The customer will be reassured to know that you were not trying to dodge them and will appreciate the follow-up.
Summarize the next steps. At the end of the call, let the customer know exactly what to expect and then be sure to follow through on your promises. Document the call to ensure you’re well prepared for the next interaction.