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How to Handle Difficult Customers Who Think They’re Always Right


The most incorrect quote about customer service that is perpetuated time and again is, “the customer is always right.” I’m here to tell you that’s not true and in fact, continuing to do business with this mindset in place is not only bad for business, but it’s bad for your customers and employees, too.  

Remember the last time a customer held their thumb and index finger about one inch apart and simultaneously told you to trim three inches off her dog’s coat? Was she right? What about the time when a customer thought he shouldn’t have to pay his bill because he hadn’t approved the services performed on his dog even though his wife approved and signed for those services when she dropped the dog off in the morning? 

Instead of living by the philosophy of, “the customer is always right,” what we should be doing is focusing on doing the right thing — for your business, your employees and for your customers that are worth keeping.  

Some customers are unreasonable. One of my favorite airlines is Southwest Airlines. I like them because they’re reasonably priced, don’t “nickel and dime” me and have always provided great service. Because I often fly Southwest, it doesn’t bother me that I don’t have an assigned seat and I have to line up with my boarding group. However, I’ve been in line behind repeat Southwest passengers who complain to gate agents about not having assigned seats and having to board with a specific group. It’s not like they didn’t know the rules before getting to the gate. These unreasonable customers are a “wrong fit” for this airline. They should just suck-it-up and pay more to have a seat number on their tickets. I’m sure Southwest won’t be sorry to see them go. These are not the type of customers they’re after. 

Some customers have unrealistic expectations. My friend Kathy and her husband own a great restaurant in Houston called Angelo’s Pizza and Pasta. She recently told me about a customer who came in and ordered two entrées, ate from both, but wanted to send one back and not pay for it. There was nothing wrong with the meal, she just wanted to be able taste both entrées before deciding which one she wanted to eat. When the customer was told she could not “return” an entrée unless there was a problem with it, she got angry, saying that she always did this at other restaurants. Unfortunately, this customer had built unrealistic expectations based on her experiences with other restaurants. At Angelo’s she was told kindly and politely that they could not comp the second entrée and she reluctantly paid the bill and has not been back. 

However, Kathy is fine losing such a customer. She feels that if a customer orders something and her staff go to the trouble of preparing and serving it, they deserve to be paid for the meal. “I used to believe the customer was always right, but I’ve learned that a customer like this is never going to be happy and you’re better off letting her go,” she explained. 

Some customers just don’t know what they want or need. Good customer service providers know it’s their job to try to find a solution that’s best for the customer, not just what they say they want. This can be done by asking questions, finding out the result the customer is seeking and sharing the best possible solutions based on their expertise. Oftentimes, the solution may not be something the customer has ever thought of. 

For example, if a customer comes in looking for cat food, it would be easy to simply direct them to the food section and let them browse on their own. However, a better tactic would be to ask some questions about the cat, its age, activity level, etc., as well as ask questions about what the person is looking for in a food option. Do they have a budget range in mind? Are there ingredients they wouldn’t want their cat to eat? Asking questions like these will help you guide customers to not only the right product for them, but often a better product for their pet and for your cash register than what they’d pick on their own.  

Shockingly, some customers are just plain wrong. Many organizations have installed video cameras in customer service areas to have the ability to follow up on customer complaints. Time and time again I hear from my clients that they’ve reviewed videotape where a customer accuses an employee of something that didn’t happen. Sometimes customers just make mistakes, other times customers lie in an attempt to get what they want. Either way, customers aren’t always correct. 

Whether the customer is flat-out wrong, has unrealistic expectations, is unreasonable or just doesn’t know what they want, they’re still your customer and your goal is to help them and, in most instances, keep them as customers. So, what can you do? 

 

First, empathize and acknowledge what they’ve said.  

Saying, “I understand it’s frustrating to come to pick up your dog and find that services were done that you weren’t expecting.” When you clarify that you understand their concern and their feelings about the situation, this often helps to calm the person down when they’re upset, so they’ll be better able to listen to your explanation.  

Be sure you have your facts straight.  

Before jumping in to fix the issue or offering explanations for what happened make sure you have all the information you need to move forward. “Who was it that dropped the dog off this morning, Mr. Jones?” When he says it was his wife, you say, “Oh, I see right here that Mrs. Jones initialed the services and signed the intake form this morning.” Sometimes that alone will remind Mr. Jones that his issue is with his wife, not you.  

Offer solutions to avoid the issue in the future or ask the customer for solutions. 

In this case, I might say, “Mr. Jones, I apologize for any miscommunication. In the future, we can either call you to confirm the services when someone else drops Dexter off, or if you do the drop offs, we can confirm them with you then. Will that work for you?” Alternatively, you could say, “Mr. Jones, I apologize for any miscommunication. If Mrs. Jones isn’t the person who can authorize services for Dexter, how would you like us to proceed in the future?” This question will either get you a hasty retreat, or some other alternative option, but the bottom line, once he offers the solution, it’s his to live with.  

Be ready to let a customer walk out the door.  

Sometimes no matter what you do, the customer won’t be happy and will threaten to not do business with you again. Now’s not the time to start begging for their business, offering discounts, or giving free services just to make a difficult customer happy. “Mr. Jones, I’m very sorry to hear that and we’d hate to see you and Dexter leave us, but that’s your choice certainly. I really hope you reconsider my offer and . . .” and then repeat the solutions you’ve already given him.  

The customer may not always be right, but the customer is the reason you have a business, so handle these situations with empathy, professionalism and a calm demeanor. Doing so will give you the best chance of walking away with the solution that’s best for everyone.  

 

 

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