My Top 5 Tips To Dealing with Difficult Customers
By Jane Harding
Hello everyone! Welcome back… who saw my ‘Pennywise’ tutorial on The Face Painting Shop YouTube Channel? Did you like it? I hope you found it helpful. If you haven’t seen it, ‘Go check it out!’
Today, it’s all about those dreaded difficult customers!
We’ve all been there, doing our best and still we seem unable to please some people. First off, let me tell you, sometimes you can try everything… including the tips I am going to share now and it still won’t be enough!
I say, do your best and then ‘Let These One’s Go’, don’t dwell on one person’s bad experience. If you have provided the best customer service possible and they are still not happy, it’s probably more about them than you… move on!
So what do I know about dealing with difficult people?
Well, in my former life/career, I spent almost 20 years working for the Local Authority and can safely say I have had my fair share of ‘Difficult’ Customers/Clients (whatever you want to call them).
IMO, there is nothing harder than working with/engaging/building relationships/and changing the behaviour of people that didn’t want you there in the first place! I have been trained to my back teeth in every counselling approach, lone working practices, dealing with aggressive people, managing risky behaviours etc. etc. So, I would say I have some knowledge on the subject.
Ultimately, it all comes back to good customer service, being fair and professional.
Here we go…
MY 5 TOP TIPS TO DEALING WITH DIFFICULT CUSTOMERS
(Could also translate to ‘difficult situations’)
The thing I find most common in “difficult customers”, is their need to be listened to. Just listen to them, let them get out what they need to say and then try replying with something like, “I hear what you’re saying”, or “I’m sorry to hear that”… keep in mind; you are not agreeing with them, you are just acknowledging their feelings. On a psychological level, just by doing this, they will feel you are taking them seriously and that’s all most people want. Especially when people get agitated and angry, these simple sentences can help to calm things down. STAYING CALM is probably the most important thing you can do. It’s very easy to rise to (or ‘mirror’) another person’s emotional level, but think of this in reverse. If you remain calm, they are far more likely to ‘mirror’ your emotional level and meet you back down there, and subsequently becoming much easier to manage.
2. FIND OUT WHAT THEY WANT
Customers that complain, tend to be angry and want to let you know about it. So, once you have LISTENED, don’t be tempted to be defensive or begin to offer explanations (they will only see this as excuses) and it’s most likely going to just escalate to an argument. It takes two to tango! Instead, get straight to the point… try saying something like, “I’m sorry to hear that you are unhappy with……., What would you like to see happen now?”, A question such as this in itself will appease most people, this is because you are showing that you have listened and that you are indicating your intent to make it right. I have always found that 9/10 people will say, “I don’t want anything!”….. NOTHING?! That’s what you’ll be thinking. After all that, they don’t want anything!! They literally just needed to vent, and whether you agree with them or not, ask yourself, ‘Is it worth getting into this argument?’. The damage they could do to your business if you decide to give a counter argument is much more damaging than your need to have your say.
The way I look at it is; my business is everything to me. This person is a customer (also important), BUT they are not someone I hold dear to my heart, so it doesn’t matter if they have a different opinion to me or if they think I am wrong… I know I am right and I am going to protect my business first and foremost.
Oh… and that 1/10 person… well, they will tell you what they want! Maybe they want a discount or refund? At this point I would use one of my counselling techniques, which in a nut shell would be as follows. Paraphrase everything they have just told you into something short and sweet like, “I am hearing you’re not happy because..… and you would like…..”. (It’s very important to start that sentence with “I”) This helps on two levels, one, you are proving you have listened and taken on board everything they said, two, they will think you are considering their request.
Now that doesn’t mean I am going to give them what they want, that would depend on a lot of things; i.e. What the issue was, was I in the wrong, do they have a point and what are they asking for? If I was actually in the wrong, hypothetically let’s say I double booked them and couldn’t get cover. Personally I would give them a full refund and apologise profusely! I might ask if there was anything else I could do to put my mistake right… id consider a discount for their next party or possibly offer to provide a 1 hour face painting experience for the birthday boy/girl and their siblings if the children were very upset or disappointed.
However; If it was a customer kicking off because I refused to paint a child under 3 at their party and their friend was upset, I would apologise (for the upset) but advise, unfortunately I am not in a position to offer a discount, as I have already provided the service I was booked for and calmly point out, that I can see they ticked the box on the booking form to say they had read my full T&Cs and that they do clearly state my policy on age restrictions.
Or, if there was another issue not covered by my T&Cs, I may offer a partial refund, if I felt this would prevent any escalation or negative impact on my business.
3. BITE YOUR TONGUE!
This is much easier said than done, but ultimately this is business… when you think of it in those terms you are less likely to take what people say personally. It’s when things are taken personally that we are most likely to react defensively. Your first instinct should be to protect your business and you do this by providing excellent customer service. So avoid at all costs, engaging in an argument with a customer, even if they never book you again. Who knows who might be watching or hear what’s happening. This is how bad reputations start, even if you were absolutely in the right, it won’t look that way from a distance. I stand by the fact that ‘word of mouth’ is your best source of advertising, so present yourself in a professional manner at all times.
4. CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
You may feel what I am encouraging you to do is ‘panda’ to people or ‘let them get away with treating you badly’, but I am really not, I reiterate, its business, try to shift your mind set to see it as ‘managing a situation,’ rather than the former. Here’s an analogy for you; if a child is having a temper tantrum because they have been told ‘no’, implementing ‘planned ignoring’ is the best behaviour management strategy and it’s important to remember, you are not ignoring the child; you are ignoring the behaviour! If the behaviour receives the desired response, the behaviour will continue. If the behaviour does not receive the desired response, the behaviour will cease. It’s the same thing here, you won’t get anywhere arguing back, or giving explanations/”excuses”… you need to be the bigger person, let it go and ‘Manage the situation’.
5. STICK TO YOUR GUNS!
I know what you are thinking, and you’re right, it’s not ALL about letting things go; it’s actually the age old saying of ‘choose your battles wisely’. Some battles you won’t win, so there’s no point escalating it out of all proportions, let them go. BUT sometimes we have to stick to our guns, i.e. for Health & Safety reasons! Let me tell you a story;
Once I was working at a PPF event when a grandad brought his grandson (6-7yrs) up to my chair. He climbed up; all appeared well, he had a big floppy fringe so I proceeded to put a hair band in his hair as he wanted Spiderman. As I did this, I revealed a forehead full of crusty chicken pox! You know it… my stomach dropped… I was going to have to turn this child away and possibly really upset him. But that’s life!
To give you the best example I can, here’s the basic transcript of what happened;
Me: Oh! Have you had Chickenpox?
Me: Aww, I’m so sorry but that means I can’t paint you today.
(The child didn’t appear bothered at all)
Grandad: (In quite a stern tone) Well he’s ok now, he had them last week, they’re dried up!
Me: (In a calm tone) Yes, I see that, but unfortunately that doesn’t change my policy, I’m sorry about that, but I can’t paint him today.
Grandad: (In a defensive tone) They aren’t even contagious now, they are dried, he’ll be fine.
Me: (Still the same calm tone) Yes, I appreciate they’re most likely not contagious, I’m aware they are most contagious before the spots even develop. But unfortunately I am not in a position to put another child at risk or contaminate my kit.
(At this point I notice the people waiting in line start to pay attention and I began to feel the pressure to just back down and paint him, thinking they probably think I am being ridiculous!)
Grandad: (Very sternly, said something along the lines of) Well he’s going to be upset because he wants to be Spiderman
(yep, he tried to guilt me into backing down!)
Me: (to the little boy) I am so sorry I can’t paint you today, but I will be here again another day, so next time I’ll paint you to be anything you want.
(In all honestly the boy didn’t look the least bit bothered!)
Grandad: (whilst taking the boy down, in a frustrated tone) Come on… she won’t paint you and then continued to grumble as they walked away.
As he did, the next child’s grandad came right up to my face and said, “Well Done”. He went on to say he thought the other man had been very naughty asking me to paint his child, he also said had I have backed down they would have left the line… he took my business card.
In all honesty I believe if I had reacted to this situation by snapping back, being overly defensive or used a different tone of voice, this would have gone on much longer, the man would have caused more of a scene, people would have most likely left the queue and the man probably would have complained to the manager of the event I was at.
As it was, he left without a fuss and someone took my business card.
They are my 5 top tips! I hope it’s helped and that you managed to stick with me and reach this point! If you have any questions or examples of your own, then please leave them in the comments below.