Dealing with difficult customers
The business world is filled with difficult customers. We all have our own personal favorite stories about a difficult customer.
You will not be able to eliminate the occasional crazy customer determined to make not only their lives miserable, but yours, also.
These few worst-case scenarios should be cut from your customer lists as soon as possible. You will end up spending more money than you will ever profit. But with the right treatment on your part, the remaining 95 percent of so-called difficult customers can become some of your best and most loyal customers.
So what makes a customer difficult? Sometimes a critical incident upsets or angers a customer and you need to deal with the situation carefully. That might be ruining an expensive suit, heirloom wedding gown or a specific “drop-of-the-ball” on your part.
Most problems, however, arise from communication problems. So, the best overall strategy for dealing with difficult customers is to focus on how better to communicate with them.
I will try to show you how to figure out which communication style works better than the one you are currently using. You can also download from my website a diagnosing style-related communications tool that will allow you to assess communication problems that will help you figure out how to adapt your communication style to please the customer. You can email for a PDF copy of the diagnosis at firstname.lastname@example.org; place “difficult customers” in the subject line. It might not work for every single on-demand customer, but it will be able to assess your counter help as well as your own communication style.
Change your style to be customer oriented
Most businesses know that to be customer-oriented, they have to offer the products and services that customers need and want.
By adapting the offering to your customer’s needs, you can focus on the substance of what the customer needs. But a good customer service representative knows how to focus on the style the customer prefers. They will adapt their communications style and techniques because different customers have different interpersonal styles.
I am sure most cleaners understand and accept the fact that style is as important as substance. Yet many are still likely to encounter some customers who are difficult because of style conflicts.
Style is far harder to get right than substance because human personalities are subtle and difficult to diagnose.
Here is a quick bullet list of different categories that CSRs and salespeople will generally fall into.
The majority of CSRs and counter staff resolve only 50 to 60 percent of customer conflicts because they can only relate and fix problems with customers who are most like them in terms of personality and communications styles.
Experienced CSRs and counter-staff will run into 10 to 15 percent conflicts that they cannot resolve because they are unable to meet their interpersonal styles.
The top CSRs will generally have problems with between one and five percent because they are very good at flexing their interpersonal styles and meld to meet the customers communication needs not their own.
No matter where you or your CSRs fall, there is “money left on the table” from not resolving certain problems or selling new services to your customers.
Converting store customers into a route customers is just one example. If you are not selling new services and offers to your customers, you will never increase your revenue.
Do it their way, not yours
Flexing your style means temporarily changing to the most comfortable style for the other person or, in other words, doing it their way.
In order to flex your style, you must make small changes in your behavior. The sorts of changes you need will depend on the style difference between you and your customer.
For example, if you are dealing with a very private person who may not respond well to your more extroverted style, you need to do the following:
Respect customers’ preference for peace and quiet by giving them more privacy than you might need.
Ask the customer’s permission to talk about the purchase decision or garment problem instead of assuming the customer wants to talk about it.
Schedule a telephone conversation at the customer’s convenience, giving the customer control when they want to talk about it.
Use arm’s-length channels of communication more fully. Write notes, emails and faxes. Then if the solution is not solved quickly, prepare a written report or note to present your suggested solution to the problem rather than presenting it in person.
In general, your understanding of the need for privacy for this customer helps you make sure that the customer is comfortable around you. You give more personal space and you make a point of listening more and leaving more gaps in the conversation to allow the customer to think about what has just been said.
You can solve most of these types of communication problems just by realizing that the customer’s greater preference for privacy is at the root of these problems.
By flexing your own style, you cool down your style significantly. The personal, introverted customer will feel more comfortable and at ease in future interactions and is less likely to form a negative opinion of you.
Move and flow to the personality traits of the difficult customer. Once you do that, you will find that they will begin to respect you more and most conflicts will be resolved faster with less damage to you or your reputation.
Neil Schroeder has been in the marketing industry for the past 15 years. He is president and creative director of the Golomb Group, developing direct response, social media, in-house promotions and web site campaigns for drycleaners throughout the nation. He can be reached by phone at (800) 833-0560, by email at email@example.com or on the web at www.golombgroup.com.