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How to Deal with Difficult Customers

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

Tired of being shouted at? We’d imagine you’ve experienced this once or twice if you’ve had to deal with a difficult customer. They’re enough to leave you feeling worn down and fed up. 

Whether you’re talking to a customer who insists on speaking to a manager (even if you are the manager), someone who threatens to write scathing reviews, or just starts raising their voice, it can be a difficult situation to manage. You can, however, resolve most situations by following a few simple steps and guidelines. Let’s take a look.

1. Don’t make it personal

Imagine someone has come into your business upset with their purchase. While the guest may be upset or frustrated, you must realise at this point they are not upset with you personally. Of course, it can feel personal when a stranger is becoming difficult with you, but try to stay objective. 

Use words like “we” rather than “I” to make the exchange less personal. For example, “We will get this sorted” rather than “I will get this sorted.” This helps to remove yourself as being directly responsible for the blame they’re ascribing you with. Plus, it helps to enforce that the business as a whole will resolve to fixing the issue, even if you cannot yourself. 

2. Demonstrate empathy

Empathic reflection doesn’t immediately try to solve, soothe, or apologise 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. 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. Here are a few extra tips:

  • Let the client vent about the situation if at all possible. Allowing a client to fully verbalise their complaint or anger is valuable (any issues arise or escalate because the client didn’t feel like they’d been heard).
  • Use positive body language like an open stance and nodding along to show the other person that you’re listening.
  • Make them feel that they’re taken seriously. Demonstrate this by maintaining eye contact and exhibiting the right non-verbal behaviours (like not smiling, excessively nodding, or rolling your eyes). 

3. 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.

4. Communicate with professional, positive language

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘killing them with kindness’? We admit, it sounds quite aggressive for what it actually means. To kill someone with kindness is to respond to negative, or hostile behaviour with kindness and positivity. Why? Well, in a sense, it can make someone feel bad or at the very least become aware of how they are acting. 

Treating someone with kindness in a moment where they’re visibly frustrated can help them understand that you are there to help them. And, as we’ve covered already, their frustrations are not personal but can sometimes seem that way. Kindness is the quickest, and nicest, way to de-escalate tense situations.

5. Provide thoughtful responses

Customers are expecting you to come up with solutions to their problems. They’re not going to accept generic responses, “passing the buck” to someone else, or half-hearted efforts that resort to you saying something to the effect of “there’s nothing we can do.” 

When your customer has an issue, consider the details of their issue and work out the root cause. If you’re not able to work this out yourself, you can escalate the issue to either someone more senior, or in some cases (though not advised) tell them you’ll look into it and ask them to leave some contact information.

6. Work out what they want

Every customer you have that has some sort of grievance will have an ideal solution in mind. What that is will remain a mystery until you ask them. In many cases, it will be a full refund, replacing defective product(s), or a complaint about packages not arriving. Of course, it will entirely depend on your returns policy whether you grant full refunds or free exchanges on defective products, but this is normally what most customers will have in mind.

Note: Unfortunately, some customers will try to pull a fast one on you, i.e. returns without a receipt, deliberately damaging items to get full refunds or exchanges, and so on. You must keep an eye out for this kind of behaviour and stand your ground. 

Whilst the age old adage of ‘the customer is always right’ rings in the ears of many retail workers, this isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes, the customer will try and swindle you. Ensure you’re aware of your returns policy, try your very best to resolve any situation in front of you, but don’t falter and feel like you need to curtail your policies to meet individual customer’s expectations. Disgruntled customers are inevitable. And, whilst you can do your best, sometimes your best will never be enough.

7. 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.”

If the customer crosses the line, it may be time to politely send them on their way to the competition. A bad customer can hurt morale and make the working environment uncomfortable. Just as bad, a manager that won’t stand up to the customer and support his/her employees can have a negative impact as well.

Here are some steps you could take when asking customers to leave:

  • Give them a chance to calm down. Tell them in a calm but firm voice that they need to tone down the foul language or actions and that you won’t be able to help them if their behaviour persists.
  • If they refuse to calm down, politely ask them to leave. You can say things like “Mr. Jones, I have not been rude to you, so there is no need to be rude to me. If you calm down, I will be able to assist you, but if you continue to threaten me I will have to ask you to leave.”

How to prevent issues with difficult customers

You’re always going to have some irritable customers, but you’ll find there are many ways to prevent issues in the first place. Let’s take a look at what you can do to limit frustrated customers.

Keep your store neat and adequately stocked

Keeping your store organised makes it easier for shoppers to navigate your location and get their hands on the things they need. This gives them a faster and more convenient in-store experience and decreases the likelihood that they’ll ask (or demand) for assistance.

Also, ensure that your shelves and fixtures are adequately stocked. Instruct your staff to routinely check your shelves for items that are running low so they can replenish immediately. Doing so helps customers find what they’re looking for quickly and easily, so they (and you) are less likely to feel inconvenienced.

Speed up customer service

Make sure your staff knows the importance of speed when serving customers. Many shoppers are extremely busy and have no time to wait around.

Hiring more people is just the first step. Equally important is ensuring that your staff is well-trained. Devote extra time educating your employees (especially seasonal hires) about the ins and outs of your store. They should know your sales floor and stockroom like the back of their hand so they can easily find the right products for shoppers.

Retail tech know-how also goes a long way, so see to it that your employees know how to quickly operate your equipment and retail software.

Speed up checkout

Many customer issues may also arise in the checkout area. From long lines to less-than-perfect payment technology, retailers need to anticipate and prevent potential problems that can occur when it’s time to ring up sales. Here are a few steps you can take to improve the checkout experience:

Use quick keys—Most modern POS systems provide product shortcuts or on-screen buttons that speed up how items are added to a sale at checkout. If your system has this capability, be sure to enable it and add your most popular items. That way, when a customer buys a product that’s already included in your quick keys layout, you can ring them up with just a tap of a button, instead of having to search for the item.

Use integrated payments—Using a payment solution that integrates with your POS makes checkout a lot faster. Integrated payments allow sales to flow directly from your POS to your card reader. This means you won’t have to manually key in the transaction information into the card reader, so sales are processed much faster. Not only that, but integrated payments prevent human error and are more secure.

Add registers and untether the checkout experience – Always be prepared to open new registers when it gets busy. For instance, if your POS can run on a laptop or iPad, you’ll want to have extra devices in your store so you can quickly open a register when the lines get too long.

Equip extra iPads or laptops with your POS so you can quickly bring them out when it gets crowded in your shops. And if you’re using a tablet, you could even untether the checkout experience and ring up sales from anywhere in the store instead of being stuck behind the cash wrap.

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 personalised, 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 personalised experience that makes them feel valued.

Take deep breaths, keep your wits about you, and face all types of difficult customers like the opportunities they are. Ready to prepare your business for every type of situation and customer with powerful, omnichannel solutions? Let’s chat.

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More of this topic: Customer Experience