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Problem Customers: When They Aren’t Always Right

Customers that cause problems on your premises may create major embarrassment for you, especially in this age of instant photos and videos. Your staff and other customers may feel threatened. An out-of-control customer may cause physical damage. A disagreement may quickly escalate into a crisis.

Part of your responsibility as a company owner is to handle customers who are not always right. Some of the following guidelines are preventive—which is the best possible response—and some mitigate the effects of difficult customers.

1. Listen. Most people will respond to a listener who seems genuinely concerned about their problem and interested in finding a solution. Some experts on dealing with tension recommend that, if the customer’s voice rises, your own voice lowers. Assuming some mental distance from the situation—this isn’t personal even if the customer makes personal remarks—will help you deal with the issue even if you dislike the customer.
2. Minimize the opportunities for customer aggravation. As the airline industry is finding, when you pack anxious people into too small a space, some of them are bound to act out. Banks found long ago that having assigned approach lines helped people feel they were being treated fairly and helped as quickly as possible.
3. Instill in your employees the willingness to help. Few things annoy customers more than watching a group of employees chat amongst themselves while the customers wait for service. Make sure employees know whom to ask if they are uncertain how to answer a question or handle a situation. Also make sure they know the limits of their power—when they should not intervene. Write this information down and distribute it to all employees when they are hired so that the rules are consistent and everyone understands them.
4. Always approach first from the attitude that something can be done. Sometimes even the most ridiculous demand or unrealistic expectation will disappear with a small concession. For example, if there is a dispute over a minimal amount of change or over the actual price of an item, it might be better to agree with the customer than lose everyone who is impatiently waiting in line. You might defuse anger by ensuring a customer that you will phone after investigating or by giving the customer contact information for the “home office” to ensure that the right people hear the complaint. But if you promise to follow up, follow up!
5. Refuse the customer’s business. In extreme cases, you may need a restraining order to keep a customer off your property. In other cases, it might suffice to politely “fire” the customer. (“I’m sorry but I can’t fit you into my schedule.”) You have no obligation to keep working with someone who creates an intolerable atmosphere for you, your employees and your other customers.

HR Compliance 101 creates guidelines for businesses and their employees in handling customer disputes and issues. Contact us today.

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