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Manufacturing: Dealing with Difficult Customers


Dealing with Difficult Customers

Everyone’s got them; it doesn’t matter what kind of business you have or how hard you try to avoid it, everyone has a few difficult customers. You know the kind I’m talking about; no matter what you do, it’s never enough; you just can’t seem to satisfy them.

So, what do you do with those customers? Is it best to bend over backwards, trying to do everything you can to satisfy them? Or would you be better off ignoring them, hoping they’ll go away? Is there any one right answer in how to deal with those customers before they can drive you nuts?

Actually, there is no one right answer to dealing with difficult customers. That’s because not all customers are the same. Oh, we try and lump them all together and call them “our customers,” but in reality, there are a number of different groups that make up our customers. Some are larger and some are smaller; some are close and others far away; some have lots of different needs, while others are fairly simple to satisfy.

Even the difficult customers can be broken down into different groups; there are those who are always difficult and those who are only difficult once in a while.

Why are they Difficult?

The first thing you have to do in order to deal with these difficult customers is determine why it is that they are so hard to get along with. It’s really easy to say, “They’re just difficult, nobody could make them happy.”

While that might make you feel better for a moment, it really doesn’t do anything to help solve the problem. You still have to find out a way to deal with them.

There are a number of reasons why a customer may be difficult. Here are a few common ones:

  • Their business is very demanding in the quality sense. This makes them very particular about what they purchase.
  • Their company is poorly organized. This is very common in companies that are new startups or growing through growth spurts.
  • They’ve cut to the bone and then some, putting themselves in a position of not having enough people to do the job.
  • Your contact in that company can be going through a personal life crisis that they’re having trouble dealing with.
  • The company is in financial crisis, putting extreme pressure on everyone in the company.
  • Your contact in the company is under a lot of pressure from their boss and doesn’t deal with it well.
  • Their needs are not a good match for what your company offers.

This list is by no means complete. There can be as many reasons why a customer is difficult, as there are customers in the world. Nevertheless, many of them fall into one of these categories. As with any problem, understanding is the key to being able to deal effectively with the situation.

How to Diffuse the Situation

While the reasons for a customer may be varied, dealing with those difficult customers pretty much always boils down to the same thing. There are eight steps you should use to make sure that their problem is solved and that they are no longer upset.

  1. Don’t take it personally – When somebody is yelling at you on the phone or putting your company down, it’s really easy to take it personally. This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. If you’re taking it personally, you’ll probably react back to them like they are acting towards you. That’s not going to help anything. Remember, the anger they are displaying is a symptom of a deeper problem. You need to deal with the deeper problem, not the anger.
  2. Show respect – Whatever you do, don’t put the customer down. I realize that you would never do that, but some things we commonly do in these situations can sound disrespectful. Telling a customer “Calm down” may seem logical to you, but to them, it sounds like all you care about is getting them off your back.
  3. Listen, listen, listen – The only way you’re going to be able to solve their problem is by finding out what it is, and there’s only one source of information available to you; that upset customer. So, listen to what they’re saying and try to sort the wheat from the chaff. Somewhere in all those words, they’re going to give you an idea of what the problem is. You may have to dig through a lot of anger and unnecessary words to find it, but it’s there.
  4. Have empathy for the customer – Regardless of what the problem is, they need a solution. Part of that solution is knowing that somebody cares about their problem. So, how do you do this? As best you can, put yourself in their shoes. Why are they feeling the way that they do? How would you react in that situation? This will help you better understand their problem, so that you can help them find a solution.
  5. Build rapport with them – This is how you show your empathy for them. Find some common ground. Are they going through a personal problem? Well, you’ve had them too; you should be able to relate to their problem. Is their boss on their back? You’ve probably been there too. You want to project the idea to them that you’re on their side and that you don’t want anything more than to solve their problem.
  6. Find out the root issue – Most people who call up angry don’t really tell you what they’re angry about. They’re much more likely to talk about the symptoms than they are the problem. Just as your family physician listens to your tale of woe, trying to seek out the root cause, you need to dig through their complaints to find what’s causing their bad day.
  7. Give them a solution – While they may want the opportunity to vent a bit, the real issue is that they need a solution to their problem. You need to be the one who finds that solution for them. Don’t let your company’s policies get in the way of taking care of a customer’s needs. If you need to think outside the box, then find someone who can authorize that out of the box solution. Your boss is your first resource for this.
  8. Follow-up – Regardless of whatever the solution is, make sure that you follow-up with that customer. Give the solution enough time to kick in, and then call them back, to make sure that everything is all right. This final step can very likely be just the medicine you need to avoid another problem with that customer.

A Couple of Final Thoughts

There are times when finding the right solution for the customer may be the wrong solution for your company. It can cost more to solve the problem than what your company is making on that deal. That’s okay, if you look at it in the long-term.

You aren’t just trying to make money off of that customer this time; you’re trying to build a long-term relationship, where your company can continue to reap the profits of doing business with that customer.

However, there’s a flip side to this coin. Sometimes, a customer’s needs and your company’s product and service offerings just don’t match. Many companies bend over backwards, trying to satisfy these customers, but only end up losing money. As Kenny Rogers sang, “You’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away and know when to run.”

Sometimes, the answer is to refer a customer to a competitor. As crazy as that may sound, it’s true. Your company exists to make money. While satisfying customers is an essential ingredient to making money, there are times when you just can’t satisfy that customer.

In those cases, you’re better off satisfying their need by telling them where to go to get what they want. You might lose that sale, but you’ll reap enormous rewards in good will.

Ultimately, that will bring you more sales.

Key Takeaways:

  • Empathize with the customer. Regardless of their problem, put yourself in their shoes. See what they’re seeing and feel what they’re feeling.
  • Find the problem, and then find the solution. It’s always about some problem. Seek the root problem, and then find the best possible solution to meet their need.
  • Know when to fold. Although it might sound heretical, know when it’s time to send a customer elsewhere. If all you’re doing is losing money on a customer, then you’re not doing your company any favors.

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