As a successful business owner, you know customer satisfaction is the key to continued sales and profits. But you also know it’s harder to please some customers than others, and some can be downright problematic.
Of course most customers take little time and effort. They understand that their relationship with your company is commercial. That is, your business offers a product or service and they agree to a set rate and terms.
Tips on Defusing and Solving Customer Problems
Here are some general guidelines on handling customers in tense situations:
The remaining customers can run the gamut from moderately annoying to extremely difficult, and although they are smaller in number, the time and energy they require can make them seem to outweigh all the others.
The first step to take when confronted with a difficult customer is to determine if the complaint is legitimate. Most of the time, it is. Many problems stem from a particular situation, for example, a rude salesperson, unsatisfactory customer service, a product defect that causes havoc in the buyer’s own business or a late delivery that caused the customer to miss a deadline.
In those instances, you apologize, do what you can to appease the customer, and take steps to correct the error and ensure it doesn’t happen again. At the same time, consider that the customer has done you a favor by highlighting a weakness in your operations or by calling attention to a problem employee.
If all goes well, you both end up satisfied and the customer stays with you.
But sometimes customers are simply annoying. When that’s the situation, you can choose between two paths:
Letting a customer go is a difficult decision and before you do that, you want to consider several factors:
Mitigating Circumstances: There could be an unapparent reason for a customer’s attitude. For example, the individual may be having financial difficulties, grieving, going through a divorce or working under a sudden change of management. If you can determine a reason behind the difficult attitude, you may be able to come up with a strategy that can salvage the relationship. If there appears to be no mitigating circumstance, consider the relationship in light of the following three factors.
Financial Effect: If the customer is one of your major sources of revenue, determine how hard it would be to replace that income. Also consider whether the customer is a potential source of other valuable customers, as well as how much influence the individual has in the community and over other current buyers. Statistics suggest that one disgruntled customer tells seven people about his or her experience. The more influential your customer is the more people may hear about it and be swayed to switch to the competition. If, however, you think your business can handle the loss of this customer, end the relationship quickly and firmly. You and your employees will gain that much more time to tend to your other, less troublesome customers.
Operations Effect: If you personally have to deal with one of these difficult customers on a regular basis, consider how that might be affecting your ability to tend to the rest of your business and your employees. Constant and unsuccessful attempts to appease troublesome customers can distract you from your other responsibilities as a business owner.
Staff Effect: Your most intransigent customers can create employee burnout, low morale, and turnover. Having to deal regularly with an extremely difficult person can quickly send even the best sales personnel looking for other jobs. If a customer is abusing your employees, deal quickly with that problem or you may find performance spiraling downward and your payroll dwindling.
The best way to handle difficult customers is to put yourself in their shoes. Listen without arguing and get as much information as you can to understand them as individuals. Try to find ways to adjust to their needs when it is reasonable. But don’t hesitate to turn one loose if that solution is best for you, your staff and your business.