A difficult customer – someone who is angry or upset – can be one of the most challenging and rewarding encounters for most companies.  If your people handle the situation well, you will often gain a long-term customer.  Mishandle it, and you’ll watch the situation dissolve into lost business and upset people.

What guidelines can you provide your employees to help them cope with angry or difficult customers?  Here are two:

  1. RESPECT.  It can be difficult to respect a person who may be yelling, swearing or behaving like a two-year-old.  I’m not suggesting you respect the behavior, only that you respect the person.  Keep in mind that 99 times out of 100 you are not the object of the customer’s anger.  You are like a small tree in the path of a swirling tornado.  But unlike the small tree, you have the power to withstand the wind.

What is the source of your power?  Unlike the customer, you are not angry, you are in control, and your only problem at the moment is helping him with his problem.  If you step out of this positioning, and start reacting to the customer in an emotional way, you’ll lose control, you’ll lose your power, and the situation will be likely to escalate into a lose-lose for everyone.  So, begin with a mindset that says, “No matter what, I will respect the customer.”

  1. LISTEN. You don’t try and cut him off, you don’t urge him to calm down.  Not just yet.  You listen and you listen carefully.  And as you listen, you begin to piece together his story.  If someone is angry or upset, it is because that person feels injured in some way.  Your job is to let the customer vent and to listen attentively in order to understand the source of that frustration.  When you do that, you send a powerful unspoken message.  You let the customer know by your listening and attentiveness that you care about him and his situation.

Often, as the customer comes to realize that you really do care and that you are going to attempt to help him resolve the problem, the customer will calm down on his own, and begin to interact with you in a positive way.

While these aren’t the only ways to deal with a difficult customer, these two strategies of respecting and listening to the customer will go a long way toward enabling your employees to deal effectively with one of the most challenging situations they’ll face.