Whatever your job, the chances are that from time to time you will have to deal with difficult customers. That might be the shopper who wants a better deal, the internal customer disappointed with the timelines to complete their project, or the business customer challenging an issue in their contract. Whoever they are, there are ways to give yourself the best chance of being able to diffuse the problem as far as possible, before agreeing a resolution that leaves everyone feeling validated.
#1 Give them time to vent
Difficult customers are often emotional, upset by an issue or problem, and stepping back to allow them to vent their frustrations can be an uncomfortable but valuable idea. You can help draw this part of a conversation to a close by naming the emotion you see, in order to move to finding a solution together - "I can see that you feel very frustrated by this situation, so I will look at what we can do now to correct it". Never get angry yourself, not only is it unprofessional, it will inflame a difficult situation further.
Even if the issue at hand is not of your making - think carefully before deflecting blame. Irrelevant of if it is true, often explaining that the issue here is technically with the manufacturers, or Head Office, a different individual or branch, only makes matters worse.
#2 Listen actively
During your conversation - no matter how emotionally charged that might be - you must show you respect the emotion felt, even if you don’t agree with it. Practise active listening, such as nodding, mirroring body language and summarising back the points made, to demonstrate that you are taking in the information.
#3 Propose a solution, but be flexible
Once you are fully appraised of the problem, and have given the time for the customer to get their feelings off their chest, propose a solution. It is perfectly possible that your suggestion will not be amenable to the customer, particularly if they are still driven by emotion, in which case ask them what you could do that would resolve the situation to their satisfaction. You may not be able to achieve this, but at least you know what ball park you’re playing in.
#4 Understand the internal rules
Resolving customer complaints often requires some creative challenging of the internal rules. With customer facing organisations, the most important thing usually is to resolve the problem for the customer, and have them leave happy. However, more often than not, rules are not set out with this in mind - and getting a quick resolution may require you to take some initiative. It is important to know which internal rules you must follow, which you can bend, and which you need to work on getting changed to make life easier for customers.
#5 Always stick to your commitments
Whatever you agree to do, make sure you follow through. Frequently customer complaints are compounded by a resolution not working out as planned - this only makes things infinitely worse, and will result in a further problem down the line. Stick to what you have agreed, and if for some reason you can no longer deliver on your promises, communicate this to the customer - don’t be tempted to hide and hope for the best.
If you work in any form of service industry, then you have most likely gravitated towards this because you enjoy dealing with people, resolving issues and making customers happy. Whilst nobody likes dealing with a difficult, angry, or upset customer, careful handling of a complaint situation can actually be very rewarding, and result in a converted happy and loyal customer at the end.