ALL service personnel need to build resilience in handling difficult customers.

How you choose to handle those customers can make all the difference between creating a satisfied customer experience and causing a customer to walk away upset.

While you cannot control another person’s behaviour, it is important to remember that you can control your own.

The way you approach the challenge of serving difficult customers, especially in tough times, can make a difference in your attitude and perspective as you grow through customer interactions.

When a customer experiences a service breakdown, he deals with his frustration and dissatisfaction in a variety of ways. Often, service employees are in the firing line of his irritation.

There are effective strategies you can use to help manage these challenging situations.

Let us examine the types of difficult customers and learn tactics that are most effective for diffusing their negative emotions and undesirable behaviour.

1. The hostile-aggressive customer

The most intimidating type of customer to deal with is the one who yells or screams at service employees.

Hostile-aggressive customers take their disappointment and frustration out on others.

They seem unable to manage their anger internally and use other people as “human punching bags”.

They usually stick to verbal assaults. In their anger, hostile-aggressive customers often fail to listen and may make threats to “report you to the authorities” or “take my business somewhere else”.

Dealing with them is emotionally and physically draining.

But increasingly, after letting off steam, hostile-aggressive customers often calm down and even feel guilty or embarrassed about their behaviour.

Key handling strategies:

    * Do not take their anger personally. Remaining calm will help de-escalate the conflict.
    * Keep your voice and gestures neutral. If you let yourself become angry or emotional, that will prolong the situation. Your calmness can help defuse the customer’s anger.
    * Sometimes, hostile-aggressive customers just want to blow off steam. It helps if you listen actively to them. Ask open-ended questions (the kind that do not allow the customer to just answer “yes” or “no”) to help them give you the details.
    * Focus on facts, not emotions. Work to uncover the facts of the situation and take notes.
    * Let them know you want to solve their issues promptly and accurately, and ask for their cooperation.
2. The insistent customer

Insistent customers know just enough to think they know it all.

They sound authoritative but often have little real experience with the topic at hand.

They may use limited experience or one specific incident from which to generalise.

They often have strong opinions and do not hesitate to challenge your credibility or facts.

Your goal with such customers is to help them move forward into problem resolution rather than to continue to spin the same information over and over again.

Key handling strategies:

    * Do not take their scepticism personally. Your job is to move the conversation forward towards an effective resolution of their concerns.
    * Stay focused on the specific problem and their desired outcome.
    * Probe for their deeper objectives. Ask them to play out an ideal situation in their mind. Once you know their objective, you can develop specific answers to their concerns.
    * Stick to facts and stay objective.
3. The negative customer

This customer is pessimistic and seems to be dissatisfied with everything.

In fact, he often sees himself as a victim of circumstances. He will shoot down every suggestion you make.

Do not let his negativity get you down. Stay objective and do not take his attitude personally.

Although you cannot fix his world view, you can overcome his objections.

Key handling strategies:

    * Use open-ended questions to pin down their objections or concerns.
    * Practise active listening skills and paraphrasing.
    * Get the customer involved in solving the problem and in creating a desired outcome.
Build your resilience

Dealing with difficult customers is a continuing challenge in any business setting. It can be emotionally draining.

Staying neutral and focusing on a positive outcome can help reduce the frustration for service employees who need to work effectively with difficult customers.

Developing additional tools and techniques for managing difficult customer behaviour will pay off with increased customer and employee satisfaction.

The best advice I ever received on dealing with difficult customers is this: “Keep your temper — and, above all, let your customer save face.”