How To Deal With A Difficult Customer

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Handling difficult customers

Handling difficult customers can be challenging, but it's well worth mastering the negotiation skills required to win their loyalty. When they're satisfied with the way you handle their complaints, they can also be among your biggest sources of referrals.

Providing good customer service to a difficult customer or client can feel like walking a diplomatic tightrope.

But if you handle a customer's complaint the right way, you can turn the situation around and even turn that person into a loyal customer.

Here are some tips to help you when faced with a difficult customer:

Don't Take It Personally

How you handle the first contact with a dissatisfied customer is critical to diffusing the situation.

If a customer or client approaches you with an adversarial attitude, voice raised, he isn't seeing you as an inividual at that moment - only as a representative of your company.

Try to remain objective, and don't take it personally. If your first reaction is to become defensive, you're already well on your way to losing control of the situation. Let him do most of the talking initially, and just listen.

Try Honestly To See Things From Your Customer's Point Of View

Show respect for your customer's opinions. Whether he's justified or not in being upset, it's important to put yourself in your customer's shoes for a moment. Use phrases like, "I can certainly understand why you'd feel that way." Draw on your own experiences as a dissatisfied customer. You may have been more diplomatic in the way you asked to have your complaint resolved, but you did expect to be treated with respect and taken seriously. If you can do this for your difficult customer, in most cases he'll begin to calm down at this point.

Call Attention To A Customer's Mistake Indirectly

It's seldom a good idea to directly tell anyone that they're wrong. Such a direct accusation causes embarrassment, builds resentment and hardens someone's attitude, and makes it less likely that the person you're talking to will want to listen to what you have to say.

If you think that your customer or client has made a mistake, begin by using phrases like, "Well, I thought otherwise but I might be wrong. Let's look at this together." Being willing to admit that you could be wrong will make it easier for your customer to admit that he might be wrong, too. Even if you know for a certainty that he's wrong, begin by using diplomacy so that your customer can 'save face' if he's proven wrong. If he feels humiliated, you've probably lost any chance for future business with him.

If You're Wrong, Admit It

If you or someone at your company has made a mistake, admit it and apologise, sincerely and in no uncertain terms. If you've missed a deadline, mixed up an order or delivered a product or service below your usual standards, there really is no acceptable excuse to a customer who was depending on you.

If you agree that your client has a right to be upset, you've effectively removed any grounds for argument and you can begin to negotiate a resolution. When a customer complains, sometimes what they're really saying is, "How are you going to make this right?" In effect, they're giving you another chance. The customer you've truly lost is the one who doesn't complain, but simply never returns.

Decide If You Really Need The Business

The only way to win an argument is to avoid it. But there will times when, despite your best efforts, you will have to decide if the difficult customer's business is worth the time and emotional strain it costs you. Fortunately, these situations are the exception.

Handling difficult customers can be challenging, but it's well worth mastering the negotiation skills required to win their loyalty. When they're satisfied with the way you handle their complaints, they can also be among your biggest sources of referrals. And since customers are the lifeblood of any business, the more you can rely on regular customers and referrals then the less time and money you'll have to spend to get new business.

This article was contributed by Kevin Sinclair

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