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4 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Customers

03/15/2010

A few weeks ago a phone call came in at about 4:10 on a Friday afternoon. As I listened to the person on the other end, my heart sank a little bit – a major issue was not what I wanted to be dealing with on a Friday minuets before I was to walk out the door.

The gentleman on the line had a legitimate concern and had every right to be frustrated. A technical error had caused an issue with his ability to use a carrier’s brand new online payment system. He had been given some instructions to fix this, but the people in the payment center were still not able to bring it to a resolution for him. Amazingly, he was the most pleasant person I have ever spoken to. He calmly explained his circumstances, spelled his name for me, and listened as I explained what I thought was the problem. Fortunately, I was able to take his information, get in contact with the carrier and get his particular problem in the hands of the right person. Hopefully the experience with this customer will help change the carrier’s process in the future. As I was heading out the door, I was thanking my lucky stars that this particular client was cool, calm and collective.

Of course, we’ve all dealt with customers who are less than patient and some who teeter on frantic, angry, and unreasonable. As uncomfortable as those situations can be, we are still charged with bringing the same swift resolution to the table – even if it’s painful. Today I thought I would offer some reminders about dealing with difficult people in our professional and personal lives.

  • Stay calm – stay kind. The term “kill ‘em with kindness” comes to mind here, and is a great tactic when dealing with a difficult person on the phone especially. It’s harder to be nasty when the other person is so darn sweet. Of course this may leave you wanting to scream into a pillow when you’re done, but chances are your next interaction with this individual will go better.
  • Acknowledge the frustrations of the other party. Conflicts are often exasperated when one party feels that they are not being taken seriously. I recently read that simply identifying and restating the upset party’s feelings back to them works wonders in soothing this frustration. For example saying the words, “I hear you. You are very frustrated by the lack of response by the carrier and I can understand that” might be more effective that just saying “I understand.”
  • In lieu of a sure-fire way to handle a conflict, ask them what they believe to be the desired outcome or best solution. Sometimes you won’t be able to accommodate their requests, but at least their input is on the table, and you can gauge their expectations.
  • Lay out the expectations in advance. This of course is better and more effective if done proactively, but providing a mutually agreeable expectation of service and then sticking to it is a great way to curb unreasonable demands.It also works to build trust in the follow up. Often times we can’t resolve something right away, but agreeing to a call back by a certain time works wonders for having the next interaction go smoother.

What are your best tips for dealing with difficult people?

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