Some customers are more challenging than others. Employees most often ask these three interrelated questions about handling difficult customers:

  • “How do you handle complaints?”
  • “How do you deal with the irate customer?”
  • “How do you say no to a customer?”

Issues that arise when dealing with difficult customers often stem from how companies fundamentally treat the concept of customer service. Many have the following 2 Rules of Customer Service etched in a plaque on their walls and make it the primary tenet of their customer service philosophy.

Rule #1: The Customer is Always Right
Rule #2: If the Customer is Wrong Re-read Rule #1

Customer service is a top priority for all companies. Without it, sales and profits erode quickly. However, these rules, though having the best intentions, present a few key issues. First, customers are wrong sometimes. Some customers try to cheat you; they lie, can be rude, mean, irate and use nasty colorful words to describe their feelings. Many times these feelings have nothing to do with your service or product and have more to do with their poor behavior and philosophy of life. Customers taking advantage of companies isn’t a new concept. In the past, big box retailers allowed customers to return any item with or without a receipt. They quickly found out it greatly detracted from their bottom-line because many customers took advantage of the policy. For example, a customer would buy a grill and use it for the summer, then bring it back at the end of the season claiming it didn’t work. These rules for customer service allow for these types of occurrences to happen. Secondly, rules like these send confusing messages to employees. If the customer is actually wrong employees can’t act accordingly, instead they must act like they are at fault, an approach that eventually erodes employee morale.

In order to better understand how to deal with difficult customers, it is necessary to first define your goal. Instead of working towards good customer service, strive for customer loyalty. After all, anyone can try to provide customer service. People who receive customer service don’t necessarily like you or come back. What companies really need and want is customer loyalty. A loyal customer is one that keeps coming back and becomes an unpaid disciple in spreading the good news about you and/or your company. With this in mind, disregard the previous two rules of customer service and replace them with this one edict for customer loyalty: You Earn Customer Loyalty One Customer at a Time!

This edict is a win/win approach. As an employee you are reminded that you are personally responsible and accountable for building customer loyalty with each customer you deal with. This means dealing with the nice ones and the mean ones one customer at a time. Customers win because each employee will focus on delivering the best service regardless of the situation. This concept lays the foundation for dealing with difficult customers. Check out part 2 of this series for specific strategies. Remember, customers are always customers no matter how they behave. Superstar customer service providers know that each deserves respect and dignity.