A Process to Deal With Difficult Customers (and Other People)

2011 January 12
by Ivana Taylor

You’re having a wonderful day when…you get a call or an email or something from that one client or customer that just sends you completely off the deep end.

You feel the anger well up from the pit of your stomach to the solar plexis and then you might even feel your face starting to turn red.  ”Why does he or she ALWAYS do this?!!!”  I’m sure there are a few choice words that go along with this thought.  Maybe you dream about ditching this customer once and for all and think about how your world would be much better off if you didn’t have to work with people like this.

This kind of thinking and feeling will do nothing but get you and your marketing efforts in trouble.  Here’s a checklist and a process that you can use that will get you feeling better AND improve your relationship with that difficult customer or person in your life.

The Enemy is REALLY Us!

  1. Look Inside first. It’s a psychological fact that the things that piss you off about other people are really about YOU.  So the first thing that I do when someone else is upsetting me is go inside and see what it is about that they are doing and saying that hits home.  Usually it has something to do with making me feel stupid, or inadequate or it just doesn’t make me look good or as perfect as I’d like to look to the outside world.    Whew!  I feel better already.
  2. Ask yourself “Do I like who I’m being?” I might see myself as a fair person, an honest person or an understanding person.  And when I allow myself to be upset by something someone has done — then I’m an angry bitchy person.  Hmmm — those don’t match up.  This is where I remind myself of who I am in this case.  Am I a leader?  Am I a solution provider — (yeah – this is where your marketing message hits the road.  It’s great to say that we provide solutions – until the customer asks us to do something we don’t want to, like to or is hard).
  3. Where have I broken promises or agreements? There are two kinds of agreements and promises; the written kind and the psychological kind.  The written agreements we make are relatively straightforward.  It’s those psychological ones; the ones that have assumptions attached to them that tend to get prickly.  Maybe I said I would keep my customer updated on how things are going – but because we were running late and I didn’t want to give them bad news — I decided to run away and avoid it.  Now they are mad.  It helps to get clear about these things and put them into perspective.  If I’m not sure — I simply ask.
  4. What commitments have I made that I haven’t been living up to? It’s easy to say nothing — but when you really think about how many times you tell people that you will do something or send something and then you get sidetracked or the phone rings or another fire erupts, you might not get back to them or do as you said.  It happens we’re all human.  It’s just that sometimes it’s those things that we remember and then get mad at them for getting mad at us.

How to Use These Insights as Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Jeanne Bliss wrote a book I absolutely loved called I Love You More Than My Dog. In it she talks about the five decisions companies make that get customers to fall in love with them.  One of those decisions is to say you are sorry when things go wrong.

I’m not advocating being a doormat.  I’m simply saying that this is a terrific customer service strategy.  Take a moment to look inside and see where YOU might have an opportunity to take responsibility for the experience your customer is having.  After all, you can’t change THEM, but you can change the experience you deliver.

Here’s a quick process:

  1. Listen using the “helping” filter.  Usually, we’re listening from the “I’m right and you’re wrong” filter.  Listening from the “I’m going to help you” filter will make you a nicer person AND will impress your customer.  Customers don’t leave because you made a mistake – they leave because of how you dealt with it and them.
  2. Remember your brand promise. Do you go around saying you provide solutions?  Well then find a solution.  Focus on what you promise as a brand and then come up with a solution that supports that impression.  This is where a lot of marketing dollars and time go to complete waste.  Your customers will be aware of your brand based on their experience with you.  So when you’re solving a customer problem, solve it with your brand in mind.  Ask questions that come out of the benefit you promise to deliver.
  3. Make it right. The bottom line is to make it right.  That doesn’t mean that you fall down on your sword.  It means to find out exactly what’s important to your customer and make it right.  Find a solution that supports your brand promise and makes the customer happy.  And that might mean making a referral to another provider.

Marketing gets most expensive when your actions don’t match your message.  Not only that, but you can actually put yourself and your business in legal trouble when you do things that go against what your marketing message says.

Be yourself, be honest about what’s happened that doesn’t match the expectations and you’ll find customers choosing you despite your mistakes.

One Response leave one →
  1. February 2, 2011

    Hi Ivana,

    Very interesting post! “Do you go around saying you provide solutions? Well then find a solution.” – hits the nail on the head with regards broader sales and marketing strategies in general.

    Jeane Bliss’ book is not one that I’ve come across yet, but your alluding to problem solving is something almost all sales authors agree on (rare!) I’m currently condensing sales books into ten key points for http://www.salestarget.co.uk, and this is the one overarching feature of all the authors’ approaches/methodologies.

    I enjoyed the post, dealing with tough customers is an overlooked area of advice for those in marketing or sales jobs, especially those starting out!

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