HUMAN RESOURCES / APR. 18, 2014
version 10, draft 10

How to Deal with a Difficult Disgruntled Customer

This past weekend, I happened to have gone out with a friend in Nairobi who happens to be an accountant at a prominent five star hotel. He had deposited some cash in a visa pre-paid debit card. He actually hates going out with hard cash for fear of being mugged and so he prefers swiping for his payments. Later on, having drunk to his fill at the pub, he gave the debit card to the waitress to foot his bills, only for her to come back and tell him that there were no funds in his account. This made him really furious that he called the card company and started ranting at the customer care agent. Despite the agent being polite, my friend wasn't ready for any dialogue. He informed the agent about the inconveniences he had experienced and the legal violations the company had committed. But he didn't stop there. He went ahead and threatened the debit card company with court action on Monday. I knew that he was serious considering the fact that he's a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) that's well versed with law. As a friend, I was supposed to take his side but in my opinion, he was being quite difficult.

And it got me thinking that companies always strive to deliver perfection and quality performance when it comes to their products and services. In fact, you'll realize that there is a certain benchmark that they strive to maintain and thus, customers are usually very keen and observant. While we have customers that would gladly overlook a flaw and walk away, we've got others that tend to be very difficult and domineering. So how does one handle such a customer?

#1 Don't React, Respond

In basic chemistry, when acid is poured onto a base, then there is a violent reaction. Similarly, there is a high likelihood that you'll get angry considering the fact that you've been caught off guard by such a predicament. Throwing a tantrum will only make matters worse and will be bad PR for the company. A calm and composed response however amplifies your company's professional reputation. The difficult client is likely to be weakened by his sensational and egotistic argument so to speak. Take advantage of this and listen to the argument instead of being distracted by the drama that comes with it. If he results to threats and intimidation, then that's when you get the evidence you need in case the company is taken to court. Remember, many companies record phone conversations and therefore the court is likely to be compelled by such evidence to either dismiss the case or become more lenient in its approval of compensation.

#2 Not so fast... don't be quick to admit error unless there is evidence

Despite the fact that being understanding is part of company policy, an impossible client is a whole different story. Such a client is likely to start blaming all inconveniences he/she could possibly think of on your company. While some of the inconveniences are justified, others are merely exaggerated to amplify guilt on the company's side. Admitting to such mistakes might land your company into more serious trouble and consequently make the customer eligible to a jackpot of compensation. It's therefore important to stick to arguments that relate to the product or service itself and refuse to entertain any exaggerated claims that revolve around the personal life of the disgruntled client unless there is evidence to prove such inconvenience. 

#3 Understand the Psychology behind the Argument.

Is the client using sound logic to argue out his point or is this just another case of anger management issues? Does your client seem to have obsessive compulsive disorder or is he/she just a mere chronic liar? Such kind of questions help in identifying the psychological basis behind the whole argument and would help you figure out a solution beforehand. Indicators of such psychological problems can range from tone variations to body gestures, facial expression and posture. In fact, I would recommend watching investigative TV series like NCIS or CSI to polish your psychological analysis skills.

#4 Tough times call for Tough measures

Has the customer proven to be really difficult to deal with despite the reasonable compensation mechanisms you've offered? Does it seem obvious that the customer is solely focused on a court settlement with intent of a 'handsome' compensation? Then it's time to play hard ball. However, playing hard ball doesn't mean going on a rampage with insults and threats. It means sticking to the terms and conditions of the company. Remind the client of your company's terms and the legal consequences that might come as a result of a suit such as a counter-suit for tainting the company's reputation. Show the client that the company has its own substantial argument and a competent legal team. This will definitely make the customer think long and hard before proceeding to the halls of justice.

We've heard of companies compensating disgruntled clients with millions of hard earned dollars and the last thing you want is for your company to fall victim to such unprecedented losses. It's therefore important for you to polish up your customer care argumentative skills and choose your words carefully to avoid anger or sensationalism when dealing with a difficult disgruntled customer.

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