Difficult customers are a fact of life for small business owners. You can’t please every customer every day. Even with great customer service staff, you’ll end up with a few dissatisfied customers. Whether it’s because someone on your staff made a mistake or because that customer just happens to be having a really bad day, your business needs a strategy for dealing with demanding, impatient, or cranky customers.
Here are 5 tips for dealing with difficult customers, from small business owners like you:
Two-way communication is key in establishing a good relationship with a customer. Train your staff to listen for moments when customers are communicating their needs. If a couple walks into your restaurant and says they’ve got tickets to a movie later, your waitstaff should not be trying to upsell them into appetizers and dessert. At the same time, clear, up-front communication about your policies can go a long way towards preventing complaints after the fact.
Often, a difficult customer just wants to be heard. Try to show them that you understand what’s bothering them. Use the reflective listening technique: If they say, “I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes just to take care of a simple return!” then you say, “I hear that you’re frustrated about how long you’ve been waiting.” Reflecting their concerns back to them makes them feel like you understand—the first step to establishing a better relationship. It also gives them a chance to correct you if you haven’t quite understood, helping you zero in on a solution that will work for them.
When something has gone wrong for a customer, or an employee has made a mistake, apologize. Even if you can’t fulfill their specific request—say, if they want to return an item that’s been damaged for a full refund—make an effort to make amends in some way. Maybe you can offer them a partial refund, or a discount on a future purchase. Remember you’re trying not just to defuse this specific situation, but ideally, to keep this person as a customer in the future.
Never allow anyone on your staff to argue with an unhappy customer. If you see a member of your staff having a heated discussion, step in, send them away, and apologize for their behavior. The same goes for you, of course—if you’re called in to speak to a difficult customer, keep your voice calm and even. If you get a negative review online, do not respond right away! Give yourself time to cool down so you can simply apologize and reach out to offer a solution privately.
Sometimes a customer complaint can clue you in to a real problem that needs to be resolved. Be open to hearing what even the most difficult customers have to say. Once you’ve dealt with the specific issue, see if any of your company policies need to be updated. Make sure you’re training customer-facing staff to be patient and take the initiative to solve customer problems before they escalate.