13 Sep Dealing with difficult customers during COVID
During these challenging times people may be behaving differently or more erratically. Panic, uncertainty and frustration can impact on the way a person interacts with another. Which means it is likely we will be dealing with difficult customers. We can manage our customer interactions more effectively by putting ourselves in our customers shoes and using techniques to diminish or avoid conflict.
‘The crisis of yesterday is the joke of tomorrow.’ – HG Wells
Types of human response
What I have observed during the pandemic, especially in my gallery café, is how customers tend to fall into four different categories of human response:
- The Doomsday Prepper – these are the people who went into self isolation before they needed to. They have resources and they are not prepared to take any personal risks or risks on behalf of their family. They could be immunocompromised.
- The Bullet Proof Contender – these are the people who do not like to be told what to do and will break the rules if they can get away with it. They believe the virus is not an issue – ‘it won’t happen to me, I know what to do’.
- The Rule Follower – I will do what you tell me for the greater good. I need rules to follow or I will feel out of control.
- The Casual Observer – If it gets really bad I will do something, but if it does come near me it does not matter.
By recognising the type of personality you are dealing with you can be better prepared to understand their perspective and adjust your language in order to develop a constructive conversation.
Furthermore, by anticipating conflict you can manage it more effectively.
3 ways to avoid conflict
There are three ways to avoid conflict spiralling out of control.
- Identify early. Look for verbal and non-verbal clues. For example: tone of voice, pace of entry, signs of agitation.
- Cut it off before it starts. If you have identified a potential incident take the discussion away from others in order to try and diffuse the situation from escalating.
- Be prepared. Have systems and processes, policies and procedures, and training to help diminish the opportunity for an issue to escalate.
10 ways to deal with difficult customers
If you have to deal with a difficult customer there are ten strategies to help you resolve the issue.
1. Practice active listening
Active listening involves the listener observing the speaker’s behaviour and body language. Having the ability to interpret a person’s body language lets the listener develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message. Having heard, the listener may then paraphrase the speaker’s words.
This means not talking over the customer or arguing with them. Let the customer have their say, even if you know what they are going to say next, that they don’t have all the information or that they are mistaken. As you listen, take the opportunity to build rapport with the customer.
2. Show empathy
Assume they have the right to be annoyed and you will engage with the situation in a more empathetic manner. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Echo the source of their frustration and show you understand their position and situation. If you can empathise with a customer’s problem, it will help calm them down. If you nod (in person) or verbally ‘nod’ (during a call), the customer will feel better understood.
3. Use your voice
If the customer gets louder, speak slowly, in a low tone. Your calm demeanour can carry over to them and help them to settle down. As you approach the situation with a calm, clear mind, unaffected by the customer’s tone or volume, their anger will generally dissipate.
4. Pretend the world is watching (or your Grandma is in the room!)
Pretend you are not talking only to the customer but to an audience that is watching the interaction. This shift in perspective can provide an emotional buffer if the customer is being verbally abusive and will allow you to think more clearly when responding. Since an unruly customer can be a negative referral, assume they’ll repeat the conversation to other potential customers. This mindset can help you do your best to address their concerns in a calming way.
5. Know when to give in
If it is apparent that satisfying a rude customer is going to take two hours and a bottle of aspirin, and still result in negative referrals, it may be better to take the high road and draw a compromise in their favor. This will give you more time to nurture other, more productive customer relationships. Keep in mind that the interaction is atypical of customers and you’re dealing with an exception.
6. Stay calm
If the customer is swearing or being verbally abusive, take a deep breath and continue as if you didn’t hear them. Responding in kind will not solve anything, and it will usually escalate the situation. Instead, remind the customer that you are there to help them and are their best immediate chance of resolving the situation. This simple statement often helps defuse the situation.
7. Don’t take it personally
Always speak to the issue at hand and do not get personal, even if the customer does. Remember the customer might not know you and is just venting frustration and you are on the receiving end. Gently guide the conversation back to the issue and how you intend to resolve it.
8. Close the deal
Everyone has an occasional bad day. Maybe your rude customer had a fight with their spouse, got a speeding ticket that morning or had a recent run of bad luck. We’ve all been there, to some degree. Try to empathize and make their day better by being a pleasant voice of reason – it will ll make you feel good too.
9. Follow through
At the end of the interaction let the customer know exactly what to expect, and then be sure to follow through on your promises. Document the interaction to ensure you’re well prepared for the next interaction. If you promised an update, call the customer at the scheduled time. The customer will be reassured that you are not trying to dodge them and will appreciate the follow-up.
Like our customers we too are human and will not get it right every time! That’s ok. Learn from it and expect it might happen again.
We know these are challenging times and many people are not coping. By thinking about the issue from their perspective, being empathetic and understanding we can help them and ourselves through this difficult historical episode.