No matter how good your business or customer service level is, your ability to competently and confidently defuse situations with “difficult” customers is critical to the ongoing success of your organisation and the level of enjoyment you get from your role. With the ubiquity of social media, bad news gone viral can severely dent an organisation’s reputation and bottom line. Check out this story (“United breaks guitars”) and related video for one such example. Within 4 days of this video being posted online, United Airlines’ stock price fell 10%, costing stockholders about $180 million in value!

Mastering and Leading Change

Is your organisation going through change? How is this affecting morale?

Empowering your staff with practical tools and strategies to cope with the emotional aspects of change is one of the best investments you’ll make in your people and helping your organization realize the positive benefits the change is intended to deliver.

Contact us about our talks and training on Mastering and Leading Change.

Here are seven high EQ strategies for handling situations with difficult customers (note: I think you’ll find some of these strategies equally useful for dealing with staff, peers, managers and even family members!)

  1. Turn on your Self-Awareness and check in on your thoughts. What do you think about your customers? If words like “difficult”, “unmanageable”, “unreasonable”, “impossible” or possibly something even stronger are pop up, chances are your customer will live up to your expectations.

Our mind has the habit of focusing on evidence to prove that it’s right. The problem with this thinking is that it takes our attention away from what’s “likeable”, “reasonable” or “helpful” about the same customer. Have the attitude that it’s better to have difficult, vocal customers than apathetic ones who either bad-mouth your organization without your knowledge or simply take their business elsewhere without giving you an opportunity to understand, clarify and resolve a situation!

It takes courage and energy for your customer to offer you feedback. Knowing what their perception is of your business will give you the opportunity to resolve the situation and further elevate your customer service levels. In other words, make it a habit to focus on “what’s great” about your customers. Your customer will feel your gratitude in their interaction with you. This alone can go a long way towards defusing a difficult situation.

  1. Stay calm when in the presence of a vocal, irate customer. Don’t take criticism All of us have said things we don’t mean when we’re annoyed or feeling resourceful. Take a deep breath. Show concern, not worry, through your body language. Be careful not to smile or appear patronising. When your customer is unhappy, chances are his or her need for certainty (a very basic human need) isn’t being met at that moment. Your customer’s response is simply his or her habitual strategy for creating certainty. Having someone in their presence that exudes calm confidence can have a very reassuring effect on them. Just keep breathing in normally and stay present and in the moment.
  2. Empathise with the emotions they are going through. Be an attentive and active listener. You may not agree with what’s being said but acknowledging your customer for the right they have to feel the way they feel is powerful rapport building. When a customer is being difficult, chances are the trust capital with your organization is low. Make establishing rapport with this customer a priority. Stephen R Covey (author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”) suggests that we listen not just with our ears but also with our eyes and our heart.Just keep breathing in normally and stay present and in the moment.
  3. Thank them for caring enough to bring the problem up to you directly for your attention. They could have taken actions that are far more detrimental to your organization – acknowledge them for their open-ness, courage and effort to give you an opportunity to remediate or clarify the situation. This is often the last thing you’ll feel like doing when you feel like you’re being attacked. Know that this is often also the last thing your customer is expecting you to do. The “surprise factor” from this action can often defuse a volatile situation and when done sincerely, can be a giant step towards establishing rapport.
  4. Listen without interrupting the customer. Nod and maintain eye contact to show you’re really listening. Sometimes, all that’s required to defuse a volatile situation is a sincere apology. Paraphrase in your own words what you’ve heard e.g. “I’m sorry this situation has contributed to your frustration. What I’m hearing is that you are very disappointed that you’ve had to call us numerous times about your order and that your problem has not received the attention it deserves. I can see how annoying this has been for you.”
  5. Take charge. Do not let a negative situation get out of hand. Be responsive and decisive without being rash. If this is a face-to-face situation and your customer’s behaviour is having an adverse impact on your other customers, gently but firmly direct your customer to focus on solutions, rather than allow them to keep ranting on about the problem. For instance, you might say “OK, I am with you in focusing on a solution to the issues you have raised. May I offer you a couple of options?” Involve a senior supervisor if appropriate – he or she will often have access to resources that can compensate or at least placate the customer in some way. This act also communicates to the customer that he or she is important.
  6. If you are receiving an emotional tirade in writing, respond quickly to reassure your customer that you have received their communication. If you don’t have a plan of action to convey, give them the plan for the plan i.e. let them know what you intend to do produce a timetable and action plan. Create certainty in times of uncertainty.
  7. Communicate and get agreement to a clear plan of action. When you’ve heard their views and come up with options, tell them calmly what you can do about it, what your constraints might be and what the proposed next step will be from your end. Importantly get their agreement to this action plan. You might say for instance “OK, here’s what we could do. Option 1 is we could wait for our technical issues to be resolved and then for me to get back to you on when you will receive the product you ordered. Given what you’ve been through, this might not be the best option. Option 2 is for me to send you the product tomorrow with the understanding that when you get the next bill, there might be some discrepancy in your billing. You can safely disregard those discrepancies because they’ll be due to limitations with our systems at the present moment. If such a situation arises, I will be calling you to reassure you that you will not be debited for any charges that are unwarranted. Would this solution be acceptable to you and if so, would it be your preferred option?”.In short, our business exists and sustains itself by creating value for our customers. For a variety of reasons, there will inevitably be situations where our organization’s performance falls short of a customer’s expectations. The strategies we deploy in these key moments form our customers’ perceptions about our branding and effectiveness. Having the emotional strength to stay positive, empathetic and solutions oriented when faced with pressure is a start. Being confident to take change of a situation and then demonstrate your commitment to make your customer’s life better will help you earn the respect of your customer. Importantly, applying your emotional intelligence and making the creation of a positive customer experience a key priority can only positively enhance the level of enjoyment you get from your role.

Make this the most outstanding day you deserve!