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HOW TO MANAGE DIFFICULT CUSTOMERS


Tough Customer

HOW TO MANAGE DIFFICULT CUSTOMERS

Do you have clients that are consistently difficult to work with, or perhaps they seem to have a lot of complaints? Be honest, we all do! Sometimes the easiest thing is to cut bait and terminate the relationship. However, conventional wisdom tells us that it’s always better to retain existing customers (and employees) than replace them, and this is one case where that wisdom is true. The cost of bringing on a new customer, or employee, is far more expensive than keeping the ones you have. Except sometimes, cutting a customer or an employee loose makes the most sense, but only as a last resort.

The focus of this blog is on how to manage difficult clients. The interesting part is that the same principles also apply to employees. Let’s see how this works:

  1. BEGIN A PERIOD OF UNBIASED FACT-FINDING: It’s important to develop an objective basis from which to direct future decisions. If you haven’t already begun implementing logs of ALL complaints presented by clients, now is a good time to start. It can be something as simple as a spreadsheet, or even a paper log if that’s more comfortable for you. Whatever will get you to keep track of all complaints and concerns raised by clients.
    • Every registered complaint should be included in the logs – even those with obvious causes and that were easily and quickly resolved.
    • This will provide you with a valuable view of the trends and issues that may be developing, before it hits your radar.
  2. THE FIRST STEP IS TO LOOK INWARD: When you have a complaint, honestly analyze your own attitudes and communication skills to see if there is something you or your staff are doing (or not doing) that are contributing to the problem.
    • Are you getting similar complaints or comments from other clients? If so, there’s a good chance that there is a problem in your infrastructure that needs to be looked at.
    • Are you creating reasonable service expectations? The old adage to “Under-promise and Over-deliver” is truer today than ever.
    • Meet with your staff for a brainstorming session to make certain the problem is not on your end (because if it is, you’ll need to fix it).
  3. THEN LOOK AT IT FROM THE CLIENT’S PERSPECTIVE: Assuming you and your team are certain it’s not a problem on your end (which is unlikely because these things rarely occur in a vacuum), the next step is to view your service through your client’s eyes. What is he/she REALLY saying? You know the service you’re providing, but how do THEY perceive that service?
    • Is it perhaps an issue that you and your team view as very routine, but that is upsetting to the client who is not familiar with the process and feels you’re not providing enough information to allay their concerns?
    • How open are the communication lines? Are you or key people easy to reach?
  4. IF POSSIBLE, SCHEDULE A PERSONAL MEETING
    • Email is okay for minor issues; but a phone call or even a personal visit is better for serious concerns.
    • If the person is angry, allow them to vent without reacting or getting defensive. Often just being able to verbalize frustration is enough to calm the person down so you can have a real conversation. (That definitely works for me when I’m the one who’s doing the complaining!!).

FINALLY: If you find that you do have to “fire” a client, make certain to be as gracious and gentle as possible. Even if it is an emotional issue, do your best to keep it as friendly and factual as possible. In fact, a referral to a competitor who might serve your client’s particular needs better is always a good idea! This isn’t the time to try to prove that you’re right; simply acknowledge that you want to see them do well, and leave it in the realm of “agreeing to disagree.” And NEVER, EVER, EVER say bad things about a former client.