The Secret to Dealing with Difficult Customers

"The customer is always right". "Never argue with the customer". "Give the customer what they want". 

We have all heard these age-old phrases and each has some kernel of use in certain situations, but ultimately these sayings can be impossible to maintain when we have five other customers we have promised the moon and finite resources to deliver these promises. 

So what is the better way? 

The Simple Truth

At the core of all customer conversations or confrontations there is a guiding principle that will provide not only a fair result for your customer and company but will keep both parties happier relationship healthier. 

It's simple. Focus on telling the customer what you can do, and not spending ANY time explaining why or what you can't do. Tell the simple truth. 

 "It is about telling the customer what you can do, and not spending ANY time explaining why or what you can't do."

The reality is, customers are going to ask for the quickest and most ideal solutions. Many of us would do the same, but we do not need to treat every request as an ultimatum. Each of these conversations are simply requests from your customer that allow you to respond. You need to hear them out and tell them what you can do to make it right. 

Also, as stated previously, the worst thing to do is start spending any time explaining why or what you can't do with their requests. Simply put, they do not care. They want a solution. It's as easy as that. So focus all your effort instead on making your customer feel heard and understood then provide a solution that you are able to deliver.

-Make it your mantra when working with customers to focus all your effort first on truly hearing them and second, on responding with what you are able to do to meet their needs, even if you have to get back to them.

Applying it to Customers

Customers come in different temperaments but primarily fall into one of the below types. No matter which type we need to remember in all our interactions that it is our job to listen and tell them what we can do. This mantra and response from you will be met by one of three typical responses.

Type one - 70% will go with what you can do and be ok with it. Everyone is going to ask for the best to start with but very few will come back a second time when you tell them what you’re able to do for them (especially as you develop a reputation of being fair and delivering on promises).
So do not immediately get stressed with every customer request tell them what you can do and the majority will be happy and move on with their days.
Type two - 25% will come back with a compromise. Typically coming with some additional information or deadline, not yet known to you. Again, these will require you to hear them out and see if there is some additional facts requiring a differnt response. 
Type Three - 5% will not be happy no matter what you do, therefore you shouldn’t stress about them anyway. It's surprising how these extremely difficult customers are such a small group but how we allow them such weight in our mind and business. If the condition of a customers business is you must never deny their request, it will probably be a good day when that individual is one of your competitor's problems anyway.


The CEO of Southwest Airlines displayed the best example of dealing with this third type of customer in the below situation:

One woman who frequently flew on Southwest was constantly disappointed with every aspect of the company’s operation. In fact, she became known as the “Pen Pal” because after every flight she wrote in with a complaint. She didn’t like the fact that the company didn’t assign seats; she didn’t like the absence of a first-class section; she didn’t like not having a meal in flight; she didn’t like Southwest’s boarding procedure; she didn’t like the flight attendants’ sporty uniforms and the casual atmosphere. Her last letter, reciting a litany of complaints, momentarily stumped Southwest’s customer relations people. They bumped it up to Herb’s [Kelleher, CEO of Southwest at the time] desk, with a note: ‘This one’s yours.’
In sixty seconds Kelleher wrote back and said, ‘Dear Mrs. Crabapple, We will miss you. Love, Herb.’”


As manager's, we must remember we have a responsibility to both our customers and our company

So from here on, rather than caving at every request or arguing and digging your heels in with your customer, make it your mantra to listen and tell them what you can do

Don't make it more complicated and stressful than it has to be. Each situation needs to be addressed as a calm exchange from you to provide solutions that your company can deliver to satisfy your client.

Action Steps

  1. Do not allow customers to push your company into overcommitting or failing in other aspects of your work. Make a point today at every request to listen and repeatedly remember your job is to TELL THEM WHAT YOU CAN DO. Even if you have to get back to the customer with an answer, do not allow yourself to be pushed. Make smart and fair decisions today to provide good answers to your client's problem that also are healthy for your business and other customers.

Blessings In Your Endeavors,

Ruben Watson

"Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice." -Epictetus

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