Upset customer looking at her phone

5 Transformative Ways to Engage with Difficult Customers

Angry or upset customers can unleash a torrent of bad publicity—and today’s social media landscape allows those complaints to go far, fast. So what processes does your business have in place for dealing with difficult customers?

According to the 2015 Customer Rage Survey, two-thirds of all respondents had experienced customer rage that year—with an estimated $202 billion in revenue at stake as bad experiences pushed them away from businesses. If you’re a small business owner, you can train your staff to transform these challenging situations into moments of excellent customer service.

Here are five key reactions to consider:

1. Listen

This may be the most important step to take: Stop, listen, and give the person your full attention. Don’t shut someone down as they’re explaining their problem. They may be entirely wrong but it still doesn’t mean you should tell them this, as it will only escalate their irritation. Listening is a powerful stance that defuses rage. Listening makes you appear strong and in control. Take an open, accepting, empathetic stance, and show them you’re engaged.

2. Fix the issue

From empathy, comes action. It’s never okay for a staff member to respond with “That’s not my job.” Train your team to take ownership of every situation, by responding earnestly, genuinely caring about the customer and helping them to resolve the issue fast. If the situation is beyond their job description, coach them to bring it to a manager or someone who has the power to resolve the issue for them. The act of caring enough to resolve an issue in a timely manner is the definition of great customer service. 

3. Know your customer

Today’s technology can help de-escalate difficult situations in even more powerful ways—by letting you know who you’re speaking to, and their history. One study showed that 72% of respondents defined bad customer service as having to explain their problem to multiple people. The same study showed that for 69% of respondents, the most important piece of great customer service was a timely response to their concerns.

By using a mobile point-of-sale instead of a clunky old credit card machine, you’ll have access to an up-to-date customer list. This will help you open up the user’s profile and very swiftly see the history of their relationship with you. If you have a manager on hand who can offer a quick resolution, they could be offering an incredibly personalized solution. Do you own a coffee shop and have an angry customer with a love for ice teas? Give them a gift card with five free ice teas programmed in. By treating them as the individual they are, they will feel cared for.

4. Offer feedback channels

Don’t just wait for the explosions to flare up. Create an assortment of ways that customers can feel comfortable to give you their feedback and let this flow of responses inform you. Today’s mobile survey tools allow you to open the dialogue with your customers and there are plenty of in-store or in-restaurant ways to solicit feedback. Listen, be open to the feedback, and be ready to spot emerging trends and resolve them before they get to a crisis point.

5. Be online

Finally, you must apply all of the above to the online world. The British-based Institute of Customer Service reported an eight-fold rise of complaints on social media in 2015—one in four customers were using social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to voice their complaints. Build a strategy, and dedicate resources so that your company is able to respond quickly, intelligently, and empathetically.

By training your team in all these methods for resolving conflict, your business can become caring and customer-centric—and your team will draw immense confidence from this. Mistakes will happen, things will go wrong, but by connecting with the customers as humans, by respecting them, and responding swiftly to their needs, you have an opportunity to turn a difficulty into a moment of connection and loyalty. This is the interesting twist: by providing exceptional customer service in these moments, you can make a truly powerful and positive impact.

Photo copyright: SIphotography/