9 Rules for Serving the Difficult Customer

Satisfying an angry customer does not have to be difficult. Here are nine rules that can help you turn difficult customers into happy clients.
co-Founder, crowdSPRING, crowdSPRING
November 02, 2012

Every business owner knows of at least one challenging customer for whom we hold the phone ten inches away from our ear. And who of us hasn’t received an ALL CAPS e-mail with expressive punctuation!!?? The real cost of dealing with these irate customers can be significant in terms of capacity, stress and dollars.
Satisfying an angry, rude, or condescending customer does not have to be difficult. Here are nine rules that can help you turn difficult customers into happy clients.
1. Know a difficult customer when you see one. Watch for the signs. Some can be subtle at first but flags should go up when you hear terms like “payment,” “issue,” “problem,” “bug” or “slow.” Be sure to listen closely when it comes to such matters. Also watch for an increase in the volume of the customer’s voice or the use of sarcasm; these can be signs that a request has the potential to escalate. Make these potentially difficult requests first priority; unhappy customers tend to be more impatient than happy ones.
2. Stay on the lookout. Everywhere. Great customer service can happen anytime but only if you are aware that there is a customer in need. Keep your finger on the pulse by making support easily accessible. Make sure you have a “Contact Us” link at the top of every webpage and closely monitor social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, where someone may be trying to contact you. Also keep an eye on message boards and blogs for dissatisfied customers and other queries. Google Alerts is also a great tool for monitoring social mentions and comments.
3. In customer service, the hare wins the race. The slow, steady tortoise may win out in the proverb, but in customer service, the fast response wins the hearts of consumers. Customers like knowing that someone is paying attention and the faster the response, the stronger that message will be. Difficult customers can be especially impatient and immediate responses go a long way to reduce their angst. Of course, never sacrifice quality for timeliness, but strive for the delicate balance. If you need more time, send a note to say you’re working on it and when they can expect the completed task or order.
4. Get personal. When correspondence is not face-to-face, a customer is much more likely to express anger that they might not display in person. It’s critical to let demanding customers know that they can speak with a human being, not an automated robot. Customize responses, avoid overuse of boilerplate language, introduce yourself personally and call them by name. When it’s possible, include a photo that they can view or ask if they have access to Skype or other visual communications tool. It’s harder to yell at someone who takes the time to be personable, compared to a nameless, faceless agent.

5. The spoken voice is better than the written word. If face-to-face communication isn’t feasible to resolve a touchy matter, given the choice between a verbal conversation and e-mail, always go for the voice. When defusing a “situation,” it’s more effective if the customer cannot only understand what is being said, but can literally hear it, too. A good writer can craft a fantastic response but nothing beats human tone and inflection when a customer is upset. Plus, e-mails can always be misconstrued.
6. Give ‘em what they want. The best way to turn an angry customer around is simply to give them what they’re asking for. If it’s a refund they want, do your best to get them their money back. If it’s an apology, then say you’re sorry (and mean it). If they want you to admit you were wrong and they were right, do just that. An unhappy customer can damage your company and its reputation way more than that refund will cost.

7. Tell the truth and be accountable. Be honest.  If your site is broken, say so. If it was your mistake that led to the customer’s distress, fess up. If you don’t know the answer, admit it and tell them you’ll find out and get back to them ASAP. People appreciate transparency; but more so, they appreciate humility. Healthy doses of both help to calm tense users and build trust; this is needed to find a workable resolution.

8. Say please and thank you. There is no context in which it’s more important to be polite than in customer service. No matter the voice volume or foul language being directed your way—it helps immeasurably to stay polite, civil and maintain equanimity. When dealing with unhappy customers, ask yourself if whatever you’re doing for them were done to you in the same situation, would you feel satisfied? If the answer is yes, you’re probably doing the right thing!
9. Start with “I’m sorry” (even when it’s not your fault). A great response to a difficult request should always begin with an apology and end with gratitude. Start with something like, “So sorry to hear that you ran into this issue” and end on “Thanks for bringing this to our attention.” Alternatively, try “First, let me apologize for the difficulty you are experiencing.” A simple opening like this acknowledges the customer’s pain, sends a caring message and cuts right to the problem, without dodging the issue that something is amiss.
Skillful customer service is part of any great user experience, and more than that, a powerful marketing strategy. 
OPEN Cardmember Michael Samson is the co-founder of crowdSPRING, www.crowdSPRING.com, the world’s largest marketplace for crowdsourcing creative.