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It’s Just Business – Dealing with difficult customers

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Because they range in degree from the most pleasant people you’ll encounter to the most difficult you’ll ever face, customers will test every level of your business acumen. That doesn’t mean that you have to react to them differently, however. In fact, keeping an across-the-board policy of courteous and professional treatment toward all customers will yield the best results and develop your skills as a people person and business professional – and save you from being swept up in the stress that can accompany an unhappy customer’s whirlwind of demands. When you practice conscientious customer service, you can go on autopilot and not have to worry about it.

As seasoned entrepreneurs are well aware, the most upset customer provides the best opportunity for a business owner to learn and for a company to grow. Excellent customer service can even give small business owners an edge over the “big box” stores, including megastores like Walmart. This is where word of mouth comes in – the “satisfied customer grapevine” that these days can reach people across the country and the planet thanks to the worldwide web. A positive word about your business can do wonders for your bottom line, while a negative comment can be like a fuse waiting to be lit. Do you, the business owner, want to light that fuse by reacting in an angry or hostile way or do you want to throw water on the fuse and put it out? The choice is up to you, as it is you who has the power to escalate or de-escalate the situation.

Today we live in an age that provides great ability for customers to make their voices heard when it comes to how they are treated. With websites like Yelp and Facebook providing an instant audience for compliments or complaints, social media platforms give not only an outlet for customers’ frustrations but also a way for business owners to take action in a public way. When you address an issue or answer a customer professionally on a social media platform, you let every other customer decide if you are someone they want to do business with through the insight you’ve provided in the tone and courtesy of your response to that one customer.

Now speaking honestly here, there are those customers who will take it to the next level and use the Internet and social media to create public drama and even try to get free products from you. Some people believe that if they’re not served to their satisfaction, they deserve free stuff and they will demand it of you. They will try to take advantage of you and you have to use your best judgment on whether or not this is a customer you want to keep or one that you need to cut loose. After all, it is possible to fire a customer.

In his book “The Pumpkin Plan: A Simple Strategy to Grow a Remarkable Business in Any Field,” author Mike Michalowicz makes references to customers being like giant pumpkins and to get the best seeds, some pumpkins must die off so that the big one can grow. By this he means to focus on your best customers – the ones you know will grow into that giant pumpkin – and cut off the ones that you know won’t achieve such growth. If you’re spending 80 percent of your time with bad customers and you’re getting 20 percent of your income from them, wouldn’t you rather focus on the 20 percent of your customers that give you 80 percent of your income and pay attention to them?

The rub in all of this is in how you handle yourself, so keep your cool, be courteous and reaffirm to yourself that a disgruntled customer or two does not represent your entire customer base. Stay positive, focused and businesslike. If you instincts tell you that this customer has a legitimate complaint, you may even want to offer them something to assuage their discontent – a discount on their next purchase, a coupon for a free item or something of that nature – thus potentially winning you a new and loyal customer based on your sensitivity to their feelings and your outward willingness to offer an olive branch.

By keeping a few simple things in mind, dealing with difficult customers can be a wonderful opportunity for growth. The takeaway is that for all the budding entrepreneurs out there and companies that are in the beginning stages of things, this is where the magic happens – in our relationships with customers. We all have stories of our own customer service experiences just by being customers ourselves. That said, a good rule of thumb for us entrepreneurs is to never forget where we came from. We were once on the other side of the counter, too. When faced with difficult customers, turn crisis into opportunity by finding the positive and it will be mirrored back to you in the long run.

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