Dealing with a difficult customer.


Do you ever get customers who complain?

I'm sure you do.

We all do!

Doesn't it feel awful when they are so upset with you, for something they think you have done wrong?

How do you feel when that happens?  Defensive? Embarrased?

Angry with yet another unrealistic demand from another picky customer?

Don't you wish they would all just go away and let you finish the job?

But, how you deal with a difficult customer determines your reputation.

Did you know that at that moment they are complaining, you are staring at a pot

of GOLD?

Yep, pure Gold.


"Why would staring into a customer's angry face be a pot of gold, Paul?" I hear you say.

I'll explain.

At that moment you have a choice.

You could tell the customer where to get off? or

You could recognise this as a moment that will go on to bring you referrals and $,000's in future work.

"How will an angry customer result in thousands of dollars of future work?" Yes, I know it sounds silly but stay with me. . .

Like you as an individual, the reputation of your business is not built on what you do right, or how well you do the work.

Your business reputation is built, on how well you handle it when you stuff things up -

and we all do!

May I tell you a story?

Some years ago I took my family on a trip to Disneyland.

We stepped down from the long flight at Los Angeles airport, exhausted.

Can you sleep on long plane trips? I can't.

We got our lift to the motel over the road from Disneyland and crashed into bed

- after all, our bodies were all still running on Sydney time.

Did you know that Los Angeles is built in a dessert? Yep.

It rarley rains in a dessert.

Except for that night.

The heavens opened.

The roof over our room couldn't cope.

The water poured down through the light fitting and filled our luggage with

water. All over our bed. Everything was soaked.

We were not happy.

I complained to the manager, and his reaction was like a breath of fresh air.

He stopped what he was doing and listened to my gripe and my request to find us another suite that wouldn't leak.

Not only did he sweep into action and find us a dry room, he apologised profusely (like it was his fault it had rained!), he arranged to move all our luggage to a better room, and then not only checked that we were now comfortable

but refunded our ENTIRE week's accommodation cost back to us!

I was impressed.

I tell so many others about that story and recommend others stay at that motel because of the way they handled my complaint.

How do you deal with a difficult customer?

Here's a plan for you to follow:-

Paul Johnson1. When someone complains, stop what you are doing.

2. Show that you are listening to their complaint (try tilting your head 15 degrees to one side - it makes you look even more engaged with them), and nod as they speak.

3. say "mmm", "Oh",  "I see" and "really!", in other words empathise with the customer.

4. When you can see they have finished offloading all their feelings of frustration, then you may speak - not before.

5. Speak calmly (I know you would love to give them both barrels - resist the urge) 

Oh, and resist the urge to start your response with 

"Yeah but . . " and any other attempt to justify yourself.

6. Ask them if, in addition to this concern, there are any other things that may have upset them. Yep, I mean this. Actually ask if they have any other complaints.

Give them the opportunity to get them all off their chest. (After all, the first one may only be a smoke screen for the REAL reason lurking behind it )

7. Repeat back to them what you understand their problem to be (reflective listening) and how it has affected them. Just to let them know you understand clearly everything they've said.

8. Sincerely acknowledge that they are upset.

9. Offer a genuine apology (even if it is not your fault!)

10. Explain the situation back to the customer, if they have misunderstood something, in a way that they don't appear to be a fool.

11. Figure out what has to be done to fix the problem and check with the customer, to see if they are happy with the solution you are offering.

12. Set a deadline to fix the problem and tell the customer when they could expect the issue to be resolved.

13. Mark down in your diary, to get back to the complaining customer, after the matter has been fixed, just to tell them it has.

14. Ask if everything is OK now.

(You might like to make a note in your diary what you did and what their response was, just in case it all blows up and you need evidence of what you have done, including what they said at this point)

Oh, and that pot of GOLD?

That comes from all the referrals they give you. You do ask for referrals at the end of the job, don't you?

Now you understand the GOLD that comes when you deal with a difficult customer


Til next time,

© Paul Johnson 2013

Missing Piece Marketing

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