8 Ways to Manage Difficult Customers

The old adage “the customer is always right” may ring true, but are there not genuinely difficult customers, who behave badly, drain your business of resources, demand attention, and do not contribute to your profitability?

Of course there are.

Most business owners can easily distinguish between good and bad customers. The good ones are those that pay on time, make few demands, refer business, are grateful when you go above and beyond, are pleasant to deal with, and don’t complain. The bad ones are, frankly, the opposite.

But what can you do to mitigate these bad experiences without alienating the customer and making them feel unappreciated, or worse, resented?

This blog post will outline eight constructive steps you can undertake to manage difficult customers.

  1. Empathize

Always try to see things from your customer’s point of view. You may know, behind the scenes, that your support team has been scrambling to fix a problem, that you have invested thousands of dollars, that you have prioritized the issue for resolution – but from your customer’s point of view, they have been inconvenienced. Period. And even if you have to struggle to see it from their perspective, use empathic language that sends a message that you are sensitive to their position.

  1. Don’t take it personally

Good business owners care about their customers. They are invested emotionally. But sometimes this can cause them to take criticism and negative feedback very personally. Don’t. Usually, a customer’s gripe has absolutely nothing to do with you. And if you are able to separate yourself from the problem, and focus primarily on the solution, you will have an easier time resolving conflict.

  1. Listen

More often than not, a disgruntled customer just wants to feel heard. Let them vent and share their anger. Listen carefully. Repeat back what you are hearing and validate their feelings. Creating that safe place for them to share their frustrations can help diffuse a challenging situation.

  1. Don’t make blind promises

If you tell a customer you are going to call them right back, organize a refund, follow up with customer support, etc. – do it! Nothing upsets an already angry customer more than being told that someone is going to address the issue, and then they do not.

  1. Identify a solution

Ask the customer what you can do to make things right. Do they want a refund? Do they need additional support? Would they like to speak to a manager? Understand their best case scenario and then reiterate it so that you are both on the same page. Without making any promises that you cannot deliver, identify what the solution might be from their point of view.

  1. Negotiate

Once you have identified their best case scenario solution, explore if there is room for compromise. Sometimes, customer demands are simply unreasonable. And other times, they might throw out unreasonable propositions knowing that you will have to meet somewhere in the middle. Gently explore those opportunities and see if there is room for negotiation.

  1. Concede

Sometimes, and especially if the customer has been badly wronged, or if they are a particularly important customer, you need simply to apologize and concede – even if you have not done anything wrong. Taking responsibility can go a long way in making a customer feel heard and validated.

  1. End the relationship

Not all customers are created equal. This is a harsh reality in business. Some customers account for the lion’s share of revenues, while others might represent small contracts. If a customer is unhappy, it is important to consider their concerns within the context of this broader ecosystem. While you should always try using strategies 1-7, at the end of the day, it may not necessarily be worth a continued investment of time and resources to fix every customer’s problems. In some cases, it may be time to end the relationship. And that may be ok.

Are you struggling to manage your customer relationships? Do you need help supporting difficult customers? Contact Miller Bernstein today to learn how we can help.

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