We’ve all had them: the customer who refuses to be satisfied. Sometimes they whine like nine-year-olds; other times they rant and rave about our merchandise, our service, or even our parentage. One way to deal with them involves a baseball bat but, attractive as that solution may be, it’s not really viable. Your goal when dealing with a difficult customer is to solve today’s problem in a way that lays the ground work for tomorrow’s order. Smacking them in the head interferes with that process. The better way is to apply some of the simpler principles of sales psychology and see if you can’t turn that steaming monster into a happy, satisfied repeat customer.
The root of most customer problems is stress, usually stemming from what they perceive as an obstacle you’ve placed in their way. They may feel you’re not giving them what they thought they were supposed to get from you, or that what you are providing doesn’t satisfy their needs. Regardless, the first step in reducing the stress level is to find out what’s really bothering them.
That’s much easier said than done. All too often, our first reaction to a complaint is to get defensive. The customer makes a less-than-pleasant comment about the design of a product we’ve slaved over for hours and it’s like somebody peeked into the bassinet and told us our first child was an ugly baby. How dare they!? We have to keep our primary goal in mind: to make more sales. It’s very satisfying to create beautiful designs, but the only award that counts is the one that ends up in your bank account and that prize comes from a very opinionated judge, your customer. So, if the customer likes it, it’s good. If they don’t, change it! And do it cheerfully, because if you’re snarling under your breath, you’re telling that customer that you think they’re wrong. No one likes to be treated with condescension.
Sometimes, we immediately jump to the conclusion that they’re trying to get something for nothing or to bad-mouth us into cutting our price. There are people like that out there, but there are a lot fewer of them than we think. If we start from a defensive posture, we’re bound to make the problem worse instead of better. Orlando-based organizational management consultant Dr. Arnie Witchel advocates what he calls “negotiation jujitsu” when faced with a difficult customer. “In jujitsu,” he says, “you go with the force to disarm your opponent, not against it. If a difficult customer is pushing hard on you, do not push back!
Reframe any attacks on you or your company with questions that seek to clarify the situation and concerns. Don’t resort to hostility!” He points out that you have to separate the person from the problem and focus on their interests and goals, not on the problem itself. If you do that, if you approach the situation with an eye on removing obstacles that block what the customer wants to achieve, you’re more likely to arrive at a collaborative, mutually-satisfactory conclusion.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.