tips for navigating conflict – NuvoDesk Coworking
upset customer on phone

How to Deal With Difficult Customers

Key Points

Listening to upset customers helps you understand how to interact with them in your business. Here are 7 tips to manage conflict with a customer.

Often, difficult or angry customers aren’t expressing frustration with you. These emotions are tied to external situations and psychological stimuli. What you need are communication skills to manage difficult customers. Take these tips into consideration when dealing with upset customers.

upset customer on phone

Practice reflective listening.

Telling someone, “I understand,” doesn’t always make someone feel better. This kind of broad statement will not calm the customer down. When a customer is telling you their issue, practice reflective listening. 

Reflective listening requires that you understand what the other person is saying by interpreting their words and their body language. Once you’ve analyzed the situation, then you respond by reflecting the thoughts and feelings you heard back to your customer.

Example of practicing reflective listening:

Customer: “I’m frustrated because we have a limited budget and you’re unwilling to offer us a discount.”

Customer Success Manager: “So, what I’m hearing is that our pricing is a barrier for your business. Your budget is tight, and I’m not offering a discount that meets your needs. Is that correct?”

If you’ve adequately understood their sentiment, move on. If not, say, “Tell me more, so I can better understand.” Never promise you’ll fix the situation — because you might not be able to. Your goal at this moment is to make your customer feel heard and valued.

Consider their affect heuristic.

The affect heuristic is a mental shortcut that helps you make quick and efficient decisions based on how you feel toward a person, place, or situation. It explains the fact that we all make decisions and judgments based on our worldviews and experiences.

In these situations, objective facts carry little weight for us. Instead, we run the decision or situation through our internal “software” and develop our own opinions based on what we already know. One’s affect heuristic is subjective and based on their past experiences.

Example of the affect heuristic:

Ask questions to understand the root cause of their apprehension. The questions below can help your customer relax, and yield insights into why they’re unwilling to move forward:

  • “I’d like to understand. Tell me more about why you’re skeptical.”
  • “What can I do to relieve your fears?”
  • “How can I help you feel comfortable enough to move forward?”

These questions also redirect their mind from thinking you’re untrustworthy to proactively considering what they need to move forward.

Tap into the beginner’s mind.

The beginner’s mind is the strategy of approaching every situation as if you were a beginner. When you adopt this way of thinking, you enter every conversation with the “don’t know” mind, which keeps you from prejudging a customer or their situation.

It also encourages you to live without “shoulds.” These are nagging thoughts like:

  • The customer should have already known they wouldn’t have a budget until next quarter.
  • The customer should have read my email about their discount expiration.
  • The customer should not have assumed I would be available for weekly consultations.

“Shoulds” put your mind on the defensive and jeopardize the productivity of the conversation before it even begins.

Let go of being an expert. Sure, you’re an expert in your product/service, and you might be an expert in customer service, but you’re not an expert in this customer, their situation, or the conversation you’re currently engaging in.

Example of tapping into the beginner’s mind:

So, instead of saying, “You told me you wanted to increase your inbound lead generation by 20% by the end of this month, and these delays won’t make this possible” approach each conversation with the beginner’s mind. Don’t prejudge your customer’s frustration, forget about what they should have done, and view each conversation as a new puzzle to be solved.

Try saying, “It looks like with these delays, we won’t be able to meet our inbound lead generation goal. But, let’s see what we can do to get the results we’re looking for.” This approach acknowledges the problem but immediately begins working towards a solution.

Let go of fear.

Fear of a negative outcome drives many of our reactions. Commonly, fear makes us want to control things. If a customer is being difficult, there is a fear of challenging them and damaging the relationship. If a customer expresses displeasure with your timeline or pricing structure, the fear is we might not be able to fix the situation.

First, let go of the idea that you need to fix anything. When sitting down with a difficult customer, your job is to listen, understand, and discern the next steps; not immediately produce a solution.

Example of letting go of fear:

So, instead of apologizing, slapping together a mediocre fix, or validating feelings, say, “It’s unfortunate X happened. I’m aware of how this is affecting your business, and I appreciate your patience as I work to resolve this matter.”

Remember that anger is natural.

The Recalibration Theory of Anger says this emotion is naturally wired into humans. In short, anger is our evolutionary way of bargaining. We furrow our brows, press our lips together, and flare our nostrils in to drive our “opponent” to place a higher value on what we have to offer.

Example of using anger to bargain with a customer:

When faced with an angry customer, avoid the (natural) tendency to justify your position. Instead, understand that they’re merely feeling undervalued and attempting to control the situation.

Take your customer’s frustration seriously, but not personally. Remain calm and actively listen to what your customer says. When you’ve confirmed you understand their frustration, thank them for communicating it, and tell them you’ll get back to them with a solution.

When a customer’s angry, no solution may make them feel better. Give them time to cool off. Consult with your manager or partner on the best way to move forward.

Keep calm and carry on.

Conflict is a part of business and how you react under fire impacts the future of your customer relationships.

The adage, “The customer is always right” still rings true. You have far more to lose by taking the low road and stooping to a customer’s level of hostility.

Treating someone with disdain or disrespect can reflect negatively on you and your company, so reputation management should always be top of mind.

Remember, people will often mirror the emotional signals you emit. If you respond with hostility and anger, don’t expect friendliness and understanding in return.

Use these tips for navigating your next conflict:

  • Maintain a calm and professional tone while also remaining assertive.
  • Refrain from name-calling or finger-pointing.
  • Never say or write anything that can be used against you.
  • Always resolve disputes in person or over the phone. Email is not an effective tool for hashing out disagreements.

Use your support resources.

These are the tricks you can use during a call, chat, or in-person interaction to deal with a difficult customer. While they should be used on a case-by-case basis, here are a few resources reps should learn to master:

  • Placing a customer on a strategic hold to buy time or de-escalate emotion.
  • Setting up a screen share or recording troubleshooting steps to explain a complex solution.
  • Ask a colleague for additional confirmation when you know your solution will work. (This can build rapport with a customer who’s dubious of your advice.)

Example of using your resources:

Let’s say one of your most-loyal customers calls your support team with a common problem but they’re convinced the issue is extremely complex. When you show them the proven solution, they insist that they’ve gone through the steps exactly how you outlined them. Now, they’re starting to get frustrated because they suspect you don’t trust that they followed your directions.

This is an excellent opportunity to use a strategic hold. Tell the customer you’d like to look into this issue to make sure that nothing is out of the ordinary with their product or service. You can tell them you’re performing diagnostics, referring to a colleague, or simply “running tests” to ensure things are working properly.

After a minute or two of sitting silently, return to the call and ask the customer to perform the troubleshooting steps again, but this time, do it together. This puts you in a win-win situation, because either you’ll spot the user error, or you’ll identify the abnormality without making the customer feel like they’re repeating steps for no reason.

how to deal with angry customers infographic

Is it Worth it to Deal with Angry Customers?

In short, yes. Dealing with angry customers can be difficult, but angry, demanding, or hard to please customers are beneficial to your company’s success by providing opportunities to improve your business.

These tips all have one element in common in dealing with difficult customers: listening. Listening to upset customers helps you understand how to interact with them in your business.

Dealing with unhappy customers is never easy. Many customers just want to be heard and for their problems to be understood. By actively listening to a customer’s concerns, you can see an alternative point of view on how your business can improve a product or service and help to improve the structure of your business.

No company is exempt from having difficult customers, but allowing your customers to be heard and understood can increase brand loyalty, product or services, and conflict resolution training skills.

Learn 3 Ways to Provide Excellent Customer Service.

By Leslie Radford
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