Handling Difficult Customers

Anyone who has spent any time in retail or in customer service has likely seen the darker side of human nature when someone forgets their manners and is, shall we say, less than respectful.

Something primal happens to the human psyche when their needs have not been met and they are overwrought and out of patience. Grown humans can revert to the emotional state of the average two year old. Keeping this in mind can be the key to resolving customer issues and keeping or restoring the peace.

Don't Take It Personally
You never know what a person is carrying with them on the inside when they walk into your place. Whatever they perceive to be a point of irritation could just be their personal last straw after a day of things going wrong, not eating on time or being over tired, which means your or your staff member ends up being in the path of their boil over. This is not an excuse for poor behavior, of course, but keeping it in mind could help you keep your composure while trying to improve the situation. Just remember that it might not actually have anything to do with you or your business. We have all had bad days and can use that experience to empathize.

If a customer offers criticism of any kind, try to ignore the tone of the message and focus on their ultimate point. It is important to realize that even though you might not like the way they are speaking at least they are telling you what is wrong, when many customer simply will quietly decide not to come back without ever expressing the reason for their dissatisfaction.

Whether the customer has a legitimate complaint or is just flat out wrong, validating their situation or their state of mind will help lessen their irritation and hopefully get them to calm down a notch. If they are very angry, you can validate this by saying, "Sir, I see that you are upset, I am sorry that this situation has upset you." Once you let them know you understand that they are frustrated, and seem sympathetic, they usually will become willing to work with you on a resolution. You can also thank them for expressing their frustration so you can learn from it. This tells them you are listening.

Don't Escalate
No matter how hostile the customer is behaving, telling them to calm down will probably further upset them. Validating as described above is the first step of venting their steam.

Do not match their tone of voice. Not only will this escalate the situation to an even more angry exchange it might offend your other customers witnessing the interaction. Keep in mind they will remember how you handled yourself. Never loose your cool. Sometimes repeating back the customer's complaint in a calm tone will signal to them that you understand the problem and want to work to a resolution.

Avoid using the words "I can't" or "we can't." These are negatives. Tell the person you would like to find a resolution and perhaps offer some kind of a good will gesture for their trouble. This does not mean you have to hand them the store, but a percentage off their bill or a free item might appease them. This says you value them as a customer and could be enough to calm them enough to be reasonable.

Do not tell the customer they are wrong and do not speak condescendingly. It is true the customer may not have any idea what happens behind the scenes at your business (or even what they are talking about) but treat them with respect. Even if you feel they do not deserve it you have to set a good example for your staff and make the situation easier on your other customers. Trying to restore peace as quickly as possible should be your ultimate goal.

Making Jokes - While this might work in many scenarios, if your customer is truly upset making a joke might not be well received in the moment. It might make them feel as if you are making light of a situation that they consider important.

Stay Professional - Keeping your cool and focusing on resolution is never out of line. You might not be able to please everyone but handling yourself well will keep the respect of everyone around you.

Eye Roll - A big no-no. Very disrespectful. Make sure you and your staff keep your facial expressions calm and neutral.

The Customer is Always Right
The old adage holds true but it is not really meant to be taken literally. Anyone who has spent any time in an open-to-the-public business setting knows better! The spirit of this adage is really what is important. The customer in question walked into your shop willing to spend money and support your business. This makes them a valuable commodity. Resolving the customer's issue quickly and to their satisfaction benefits you in the long run. If possible, you can retain a customer - if not possible, you can restore peace, set a good example for your employees, and hopefully keep your other customers' collective faith in you.

It is wise to take good care of yourself and your staff. Make sure everyone on your team is fed, watered and has a nice quiet place to take breaks away from the busy shop. Encourage them to stay calm if they get a hostile customer let them know how to handle it. Support them after an incident and talk out what transpired. Learn what you can and be open to their suggestions and emotions. They may need to decompress. Ask them if they are okay and offer them a break. Lastly, never criticize an employee in front of customers!

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