Difficult customers exist everywhere
No matter what industry you’re in, which product you’re selling, how well you’re doing your job… there will always be difficult customers that will unintentionally (or intentionally) make your life a living hell. Here are four common characters and how to tame them.
I’ve worked in customer support ever since I was a teenager… from random retail stores to even an outsourced inbound call center in Ukraine.
One thing I’ve learned is that no matter if you are a Silicon Valley CEO or working in a arts and craft store like me when I was 16 years old, difficult customers are everywhere.
Here’s the deal:
Customer support is important and you know it, but the amount of difficult and grumpy customers that you deal with daily is enough to send someone with high blood pressure into cardiac arrest.
Listen, I don’t mean to be so cynical… the world is full of good people that just want solutions to their problems and nine times out of ten, they will be very pleasant and understanding. BUT for that occasional difficult customer, it’s always nice to be prepared.
So here are the 4 most common types of people that may give you a hard time the next time you pick up the phone.
The customer is wrong and you know it. But how do you convince them without straight-up offending them and losing a loyal customer?
Taking a page from “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, one of the best ways to deal with stubborn people, is to make them believe that they came up with a solution themselves.
Carnegie famously said,
“A man convinced against his will. Is of the same opinion still”
Although this book was written in the 1930’s, his advice still applies greatly to all areas of human relations, including customer support.
What is his advice on how to deal with stubborn people?
Don’t ram your helpful solution down their throat. You’ll only hurt their pride (or ego) and probably lose a loyal customer.
Instead, make subtle suggestions — and let the customer think out the conclusion for themselves.
Say something the lines of “I once had a customer do [your solution] and it worked very well for them.”
This plants the idea in their mind and will get them thinking about it on their own. They will try the suggestion on their own and feel better knowing that they came up with the solution themselves.
“Hello this is customer support, how may I help you today?”
“How you can f#$@ing help me? I bought your software last week and this morning I wake up to all of my Microsoft Word documents gone from my computer! Do you understand how important those files are?! You must have a team of circus monkeys working at that office there! I demand a refund right now!”
Although these aren’t the exact words, I’ve been on a few calls with this not so kind introduction.
So how do you handle “The Aggressor”?
1. Always maintain polite manners
This is the basis of all customer support interactions you will ever have, but it’s even more important with this customer type
2. Admit fault immediately
Whether you actually made a mistake or not, letting the customer know that it is your fault will instantly make them more empathetic.
“I understand how you can be upset, if I was in the same situation as you right now, I would probably be furious as well.”
If it is completely out of your power to help them, let them know. If you need a couple extra days, let them know. Even if they are angry, they will appreciate your transparency.
5. Escalate and follow up
Escalate this particular customer to the next level of support and note down their volatile personality. Once the issue has been resolved, follow up and call them as soon as possible.
When all else fails:
Sometimes the best solution is to avoid any future abuse is to let these customers know that you don’t want their business.
So if this customer is being abusive, you have every right to give them a warning or end the conversation whenever you see fit.
The Con Artist
There will always be the occasional cunning customer that’s only out there to take exploit your business. Here are some ways to take care of these people.
Often times in our business, this comes in the form of people claiming false discounts for promotions that don’t exist anymore.
The goal is to politely tell them that there are no more discounts and we can’t make any exceptions, at the same time making sure they don’t turn into an Aggressor and blow up on your customer support agents.
1. Make sure your marketing is accurate.
Although rare, it’s possible that your marketing message is misleading or inaccurate. If you’ve made a mistake and the customer has seen it and capitalized on it, then you have no choice but to grant their requests.
In this case, simply adjust your message so customers don’t get any wrong ideas the next time.
2. Inform them of the real policy.
If your marketing materials are accurate and the customer is simply wrong, suggest them to take another look at the policy and inform them there is nothing more that you can do. But be careful to make sure these guys don’t turn into lost/angry customers. (More on that next)
3. Grant requests very rarely.
If refusing a discount means a lost customer of bad word-of-mouth about your company, then simply suck up your pride and make an exception for this customer. Just remember to use #1 to make sure these customers are rare.
Your team has hundreds of tickets to resolve and you don’t have time to waste on a single customer. How can you speed up the process?
Working in tech support for some of the most popular Mac applications has definitely taught me the value of patience.
I will always remember a certain customer support call very late at night assisting an elderly woman. Her tech-savvy granddaughter had bought a copy of a Mac cleaning software and left her Grandma to install and use it on her own.
I ended up staying on the phone for 2 hours coaching this adorable old lady on how to reinstall her software to get rid of a common error message.
Of course you can’t afford to take up two hours for one support call like I did…
So what can you do to speed up the process?
1. Offer up easy-to-follow instructions through email
Me – “Would it be okay if I sent you detailed instructions on how to troubleshoot this issue to your email address?”
Them – “No, do you mind staying on the phone a bit longer while we work through it together?”
Me – “Absolutely, there is NOTHING I’d rather be doing!”
2. Ask them to call back when they’re finished
Turtles like for you to wait on the phone while they troubleshoot the problem or run the program. Most times this is unnecessary and takes up time that can be spent with other customers. Simply ask them to follow your directions and call back if the problem persists.
3. Provide as many self-serve options as you can
This one goes without saying. Customers will be less likely to call you if there are more ways a customer can help themselves. You can do this by updating your FAQs, video tutorials, etc.
4. Spend that extra time with them
Sometimes the best option really is to stay on the line with them and coach them through the process. If you have the time, then this can be a very big gesture to some customers that really need the extra assistance.
After assisting the 86-year old woman, she thanked me for about 10 minutes longer and told me she was going to write a long review about our customer support. Were those 2 hours wasted? For an amazing review… absolutely not.
Sometimes It’s Just Not Enough
With all this said, the truth is… not all customers deserve to be pampered. If the customer is purposely toxic and abusive to your customer support agents, it may be time to dump them.
Whether you stop them at the gate or cut ties with them once the situation becomes unbearable, removing bad customers from your business can be very valuable, both for your good customers and for yourself.
There is an excellent resource at GrooveHQ’s blog here that is very helpful for “firing” bad customers.