As a small business owner, you come across more than your fair share of personalities. Cheerful customers, chatty customers, those customers that never get off their phones. But sometimes you come across, how shall we say, “difficult” types. Here are three types of challenging customers, and how to deal with them.
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The angry customer
Probably the classic image of difficult customers, these are people who have trouble containing their emotions and are prone to rants. They tend to cause a scene, which can be embarrassing. If you let them, they can ruin your entire day. The trick is not to let them. Here’s how to deal with irate customers.
Understand that it’s not about you
While the guest may be upset at something that happened at your business, they are not upset with you as a human being. Of course, it can feel personal when a stranger is lecturing you, but try to stay objective. Use “we” pronouns instead of “I” to make the exchange less personal. (As in, “We will get this sorted.”) Using we pronouns has also been proven to create a positive bond between individuals.
Listen and show it
A listening technique that works well in many different types of situations, empathic reflection doesn’t immediately try to solve, soothe or apologize for the other person’s feelings. It simply requires you to show that you are actively listening to the upset person.
Stay away from phrases like “I’m sorry” or “I understand,” since you may not understand and you probably aren’t sorry. Instead, show that you are listening by giving your undivided attention, nodding and then repeating their problem as they state it.
For example, if your customer is ranting about your boutique not carrying clothes in their size, maybe you state, “You’re upset about our selection.” Often just repeating the customer’s concern is enough to calm them down a bit, as they understand that they are being heard.
After your customer is calm, you can try to resolve the issue.
Take deep breaths
There’s a reason “just breathe” is a cliche: because it works. Your heart rate will naturally rise when encountered with aggression, but you can slow it down with breathing techniques.
Harvard Medical School lists a few quick breathing techniques proven to help you relax. Even if you don’t master a specific technique, simply becoming aware of your breathing pattern and consciously slowing it down will make you feel more level-headed. And the best part is the upset customer never needs to know.
Understand that you can’t please everyone
Ideally, every customer who enters your store leaves with a smile on their face, but sometimes that won’t happen. Sometimes the best business decision is to calmly tell a customer, “Sir, I must ask you to leave the store now.”
Prevent the preventable
Not every interaction will be pleasant, no matter which type of small business you own. But you can make sure a customer’s journey is as seamless as possible. Use a point of sale that automates inventory management to make sure that you do not run out of merchandise. And make sure that your POS system can handle every type of payment, because trying to pay and not being able to is a huge source of (very preventable) customer complaints.
The indecisive customer
Procrastinating, indecisive customers suck up time that could be better spent nurturing paying customers or, for that matter, on any number of business-boosting activities that don’t involve waiting for a customer to make up their mind.
There are a number of strategies you can use that will help convert an indecisive customer into a paying one.
See indecision as an opportunity
Instead of focusing on the fact that you are spending way too much time with a customer, understand that their indecision is probably due to lack of confidence and not an unwillingness to part with the money in their wallet. If they were definitely not interested, they would simply leave your store. So understand that every indecisive customer you meet is actually an opportunity to make a sale. Stay upbeat and never show that you are frustrated.
Understand their point of view
This is key to making any kind of sale, but is especially crucial when your customer is waffling. Chat your customer up to determine what they’re looking for, what their budget is, and how your product will ultimately be used.
Give them fewer options
You’re the expert on your merchandise, so don’t be afraid to say so. Since you’ve determined what they’re looking for, narrow their options down to two choices, if possible. Choice paralysis is a real phenomenon, and often the driver of indecision.
The internet vigilante
One of the joys of the connected age is that every customer has the ability to leave scathing reviews on social media sites like Yelp. Many customers, if they feel slighted, go straight to your Facebook page to vent. It’s enough to make a small business owner feel like they are walking on eggshells, terrified to check their business pages.
But don’t let difficult customers turn you into a Luddite. The only way to deal with poor reviews is to deal with people as real individuals, not faceless internet trolls.
Respond to bad reviews
The great thing about Facebook, Yelp and Twitter is that your response will also be public. The means anybody who reads a poor review can read your response to it, so you should definitely respond. There are even templates available if you’re feeling stuck.
The important thing is to respond as yourself, the business owner, using your real name. This puts a human face to the business. Respond to the reviewer using their name and any type of identifier you remember. You might begin a response with something like, “Hi Peter, I was happy to help you find the right shade of paint for your new deck,” as opposed to a generic greeting.
State your case without apologizing
Some people who have never owned businesses are under the illusion that small business owners always have deep pockets. These types of difficult customers are known to complain in order to receive compensation that they may or may not always deserve. So never apologize for something you did not do. A simple, “I’m so sorry that you feel our service didn’t live up to your standard” is much safer than immediately assuming guilt.
Consider blocking belligerent posters
While most bad reviews are written by real customers who feel the need to vent their displeasure, others are written by actual trolls: people online who are out to stir up trouble and controversy. Social platforms know this and give business owners the power to deal with them.
Facebook allows you to hide comments without the reviewer knowing that you did so. This is one of the many reasons to make sure your Facebook is set up for a business, not a person, since only business accounts have this power.
While you can respond to tweets, you cannot hide the tweets of others and “tweetstorms” can often become unruly and even newsworthy. For this reason, we consider thinking long and hard about whether it’s worth it for your small business to have a presence on Twitter. Yes, it’s nice as a customer service channel, but unless you have the manpower and online savvy to manage it properly, a business account on Twitter may end up being a headache.
Yelp gives you the option to report defamatory reviews, but provides no guarantee that they will take action, unless “you or your lawyer have obtained a final adjudication from a court of competent jurisdiction indicating that the review is defamatory.” Which brings us to our next point.
The truth is that terrible online reviews can sink a small business. If an individual is truly trying to drag your business through the mud, we recommend speaking to an attorney about what can be done. A well-written letter from a real attorney can be amazingly effective, even if no further action is taken.
Understand that the rules have changed
There is no longer a line between real life and online life. Activity online is just an extension of the real world, and your brick and mortar store needs to have an active presence online. There are tools that help your business succeed online. Keeping your information current and correct can prevent anger in the first place.
Redirect the passion
In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to remember that sometimes your most difficult customers turn into your most loyal customers.
Whether your customer is upset in real life or online, they are upset because they care, and this negative passion can be redirected into positive sentiment. If you can solve a challenging customer’s problem, compensate them in a personalized, rational way, and make their day a little better, they have the potential to turn into an advocate for your business. Make sure that you’re collecting as much information on your customers as possible, so that you can deliver a personalized experience that makes them feel valued.
As Melinda Emerson says in The Huffington Post, “Customer service is the cornerstone of a successful small business. Turning an angry customer into an advocate might take effort and willpower, but I believe you can manage it.”
So take deep breaths, keep your wits about you, and face all types of difficult customers like the opportunities they are.
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