We’ve all had them: those worked-up, terrible, angry, unreasonable customers who want to take out the woes of the world on you. It’s not a pleasant situation to be in, but when you work with clients, customers or even vendors, it’s inevitable that you’ll make someone unhappy from time to time. Your first reaction to an unreasonable customer may be to yell and scream and cast them from your sight, but since customer retention is key, that’s not the way to run a business. In spite of what your gut is telling you, you need to find a better way to cope than that. You may want to throw this particularly difficult customer under a bus, but you’ll instead have to throw yourself a bone and find ways to cope.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. Thank Them for Bringing the Problem to Your Attention
This first step requires a change of thinking on your part. Instead of seeing that unreasonable customer as a thorn in your side, think of them as a person who’s bringing a problem to your attention. If you’re an entrepreneur or a business owner, you can look at it as a way of improving your business. Without that person, would you have known about this issue? How many more customers would have experienced the same issue, and not said anything? Instead of confronting you, a lot of people just decide to walk away, essentially voting with their pocketbook by walking away from you and finding another business to patronize.
It might be a tough thing to do, but before you do anything else, thank the person for giving you their input. Say something like "thank you for bringing this problem to our attention" or "I appreciate you taking the time to let us know about this".
When you start to see this encounter as a free way of getting feedback from your customer base, it can be a lot easier to handle that person’s rude, unreasonable demands.
2. Let Them Talk
Once you’ve thanked them for bringing the issue to your attention, stop talking. Often, what an unreasonable person wants is for someone to simply listen to them – so do just that. If they yell for long enough, they may begin to hear how ridiculous they sound, without any prompting on your part. When you’re dealing with a difficult customer, often the most satisfying thing that can happen is to watch the customer suddenly realize how crazy they’re being.
What’s more, if you let them talk, at some point they’ll run out of things to say.
3. Agree with Them
The next step is to bring out the empathy card – even if what they’re saying is absolutely, positively neurotic and insane. Yes, this takes a good deal of restraint on your part, but think of it as a challenge that helps you grow as a worker.
You don’t have to agree with their demands or even agree that what they’re complaining about is valid, but you can muster up some kind of statement that shows you’re there for them. Say something like "I agree that it’s frustrating to deal with X problem" or "I agree that your problem is a serious one". We’ll get to the part where you get to vent about how stupid or egregious they’re being, but for now, stick with the empathy thing. Come on, you can do this.
4. Ask for a Solution
But wait, your quest to convince this customer that you care is not over just yet. The next step is to ask them what they want you to do about it. But don’t be rude about it. Instead, give the person a chance to suggest a solution that will make them happy. Be prepared to hear some of the most unreasonable demands on the planet, but in any case, they will get the chance to ask for something. Who knows – after you say something like "What can I do to make this right for you?" or "How can I help to correct the problem?" the person’s suggestion may not be as difficult as the one you might have come up with yourself.
In any case, evaluate whether the customer’s suggested solution is something you can actually pull off. Since the subject of this article is dealing with an unreasonable customer, it’s highly likely that the demand will be something you really can’t do – so in that case, stay calm and try to appear helpful at all times.
5. Pass the Buck
When a problem is serious enough, it may be time to bring it to your supervisor’s attention. If you’re dealing with customers on a regular basis, you should have a very good idea of what’s allowed and what’s not. When in doubt, read over your company policies or your company handbook for direction. If you’re still not able to handle it professionally, let them know that you want to make sure they’re getting what they need (staying calm, even when faced with a complete crazy person, will win you points with your co-workers) and so you’re going to ask for help from your manager. Some customers will ask you to transfer them to a manager anyway, so think of it as saving time by initiating the process yourself.
The manager may now be handling the problem, but don’t expect to be off the hook just yet. Since you didn’t stoop to yelling, insulting, or even losing your temper with that unreasonable customer, you can rest easy knowing your manager isn’t going to terminate you for initiating a war with a client. Still, that manager may want to review the issue after he or she’s done handling it. As always, stay calm and state the facts of the problem. You did your best, good soldier.
6. Reserve Your Venting for Later
If you need to vent about the problem with someone, do it outside the office. Your coworkers might understand what you’re going through, but there’s always a chance that your complaints or bad-mouthing will get back to the manager who currently believes you acted in total good faith with that bad customer. You did, of course, but having your manager know that you also were secretly pushing pins into a voodoo doll shaped like that customer is not going to make you look good. Leave your venting for outside the office – with someone who is actually ready to listen. In the interest of sparing your unwilling friends and family the annoyance, as a rule, you should reserve your venting for someone who you know will dole out some wise words of consolation. In other words, don’t foist your work problems on someone who’s not willing to hear all the gory details.
7. Remember You're Not Perfect
So what if you disregarded all of the above advice and totally lost your cool on that terrible, no-good, unreasonable customer? Take a deep breath. It happens. You might think you’re God’s gift to customer service, but this experience should have taught you that you’re really not. You’re not perfect, and you don’t always have to be.
Your best bet right now is to shake off your experience with that bad customer and not let it happen again. Use that experience as a lesson in how NOT to act with poorly-behaved customers in the future. You might even be able to make a game out of it: how long can I endure this terrible person? How can I solve this problem in the shortest time possible? Bottom line: stop taking yourself so seriously, recognize that you might slip up from time to time, and then move on. If your bosses wanted to fire you for your slipup, they would have by now. Then again, that’s not to say that you should continue that bad behavior, simply because you didn’t get in trouble for it the first time. Right now might be your second chance.
There’s no doubt that dealing with customers who want more than they paid for, who want refunds when they themselves are the ones to break a product, or who just generally want to complain about anything and everything are some of the most annoying people you’re going to deal with in your workday. But by seeing it as an opportunity to learn and by staying calm and helpful, you’ll be working toward avoiding these problems in the future. When customers know that other customers have had a good experience with a particular company, they may just be easier to deal with when it’s their turn to complain.
Have you ever had to deal with an unreasonable customer? How did you handle the situation? Let us know in the comments section below!