Customer Service: How to Deal with a Problem Potential Customer

There is a second, seldom-discussed problem: the problem potential customer. We will talk about how far you can, or should, go to get the sale when the potential customer is being difficult from the beginning.

Price Shoppers: Comparison shopping is a time-honored tradition and should be respected at all costs. In fact, if potential customers enter your store and ask you to help them out on a product price-wise, you have an excellent opportunity to gain some great customer loyalty if you can find a way to accommodate them.

The problem arises when a shopper does not really understand what price comparison means. If the shopper comes in with a flyer that shows a dishwasher similar to the one you are offering but at a substantially reduced price, you may not be able to match it. Explain clearly and in a pleasant voice why you cannot match the price: your model has additional features, the manufacturer is of better quality, yours includes a warranty that is not included at the other store, etc. At the same time, offer to come closer to the price the customer is asking for. If you can let the shopper know you are willing to meet her or him halfway while making it clear that what you are offering is superior to the other product, the price shopper will leave with the satisfaction of receiving a great deal.

Talk to your manager or supervisor if you cannot work something out yourself. Perhaps an unusual approach is called for. Although you may not be obligated to match a price on a different product, perhaps you will in this case to gain the customer. Or perhaps you could throw in an upgrade or a coupon toward a future purchase. The key is to be flexible and accommodating. You should never simply make a flat statement that you cannot help them because you do not carry that particular product. Do not give the customer your problem. Find a solution that will work for the customer!

Looky-Loos: These can be the most frustrating potential customers around. People who come into your business repeatedly to browse or ask a lot of questions without ever making a purchase can become real problems. You may avoid them, become short with them, or otherwise make them feel unimportant because, in your eyes, they are a waste of your time.

Keep in mind that you are basing this only on your perception. What if these people have told their friends or family who do actually make purchases that the employees of your company are rude and impatient? You could lose sales you did not even know were in your future.

Remember, your role is not just to make the sale or cinch the deal. It is about serving the customer, so try to be patient and helpful even when a potential customer has come in and browsed numerous times without ever making a purchase. That person may simply be overly cautious, and you do not want to shatter the customer relationship just when they have finally resolved to make a commitment.

In many cases, customers come back a few times to look without buying because they suffer from indecision. For them, the most difficult part of purchasing something is deciding what they want, not whether they want it.

If you sense that customers are simply indecisive about their choice, there are some techniques you can use to help them clarify for themselves what they really want. Remember, they keep coming back for a reason, and if they feel the need to keep returning, there is obviously an unmet need. Help them figure out what it is with these tips:

  • Ask them open-ended questions to help clarify their hesitation about a purchase or service. Ask them about their needs, preferences, and what they are leaning toward. They may simply need some clarification or detail so that they fully understand the benefits.
  • Reduce the risk for them. If they are not sure a color is just right or the item is the right size, remind them about your return policy and reassure them that if there is a problem after purchase, you will be glad to help them resolve it.
  • Guide them toward purchases or services that may better meet their needs after talking to them a bit. Sometimes a customer simply has not found the product or service that is the right fit.

Unrealistic Expectations or Aggressive Behavior: Working with overly demanding customers can be very stressful. Their unrealistic expectations of what you can and cannot do for them can make even the best customer service representative or salesperson feel undervalued and unappreciated. It can help to keep in mind that many people over-demand or have unrealistic expectations because they have been treated poorly in the past. If they have received poor customer service recently, they may feel that the only way to have their real expectations met is to over-demand and become domineering or aggressive. If you can immediately allay their fears by being receptive, listening attentively, and giving them exemplary service, you will discover that many of these customers soon turn pleasant.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Customer Service course?

Be professional, calm, and courteous. It is important that you do not raise your voice or try to out-shout them. Instead, listen until they stop, then speak. Interrupting gives the impression that you are impatient and not listening. Respond first to what you believe is their over-riding concern. Having their concern acknowledged by you is the most important first step you can take. Apologize for any inconvenience or distress they have felt and offer to help in any way you can.

If there is some way you can meet the person's expectations, whether for a refund, replacement, or other solution, tell them so. "Mrs. Wilson, I'm so sorry you were disappointed with how the guitar sounded once you got it home. We'll be glad to refund your money." However, in some instances, you may not be able to honor a demanding customer's request.

Negotiating a partial solution by meeting them halfway is one way to validate the concerns of demanding customers without giving in to their strong-arm tactics. For instance, the guitar is returned damaged. If you do not have the authority to give the customer the result she or he expects, explain why. Saying, "because it's our policy," probably will not be good enough if the customer is already upset. Try this instead: "I understand that you aren't happy with the guitar; however, I see that there is a large crack in the neck, and that means we can't give you a full refund, but I'm sure we can work something out…." Follow this with options they can choose. Store credit, a partial refund, or some other solution worked out among you, a supervisor, and the customer can result in the customer leaving happy. Remember, a short-term loss can sometimes turn into a long-term future customer.

The Power of Positive Language

Customers who are difficult or unhappy can become even more inflamed if you address them using negative language. Remember to express yourself in positive terms to avoid making the situation worse.

Negative Words Positive Words

No, we can't… What we can do is….

You have to… Would you mind…

The problem… The situation…the challenge….this issue….

It's not my job… Although I don't usually handle this, I'd like to help you…

I don't understand… I'm sorry, could you just clarify for me….

Knowing when to pass the buck: Most difficult or problem customers can be handled with professionalism and finesse, but occasionally you will encounter a personality that simply does not work with yours. Perhaps your mannerisms, voice, or appearance just rubs them the wrong way and you will not make progress despite your best efforts. While you should not routinely hand any difficult customer over to another employee or your superior, this is sometimes the only solution.

Another voice may be able to reach them where you could not. This does not mean you are not good at meeting most customers' needs; it simply means that this particular customer needs a specific approach at which someone else may be more skilled.

If you are sure that you are not making any headway and believe that another member of your team might make progress with the customer, do not make the customer feel as though you are trying to get rid of them. Instead, make sure they understand that you are taking the next step in assisting them. "Mr. Reynolds, I understand your frustration. To be fair, John McNichols has years more experience with this appliance than I do. Would you mind if I brought him into our discussion? He may be able to offer some suggestions I haven't thought of."

The final step you may need to take, which we have mentioned briefly before, is bringing your manager or supervisor into the mix. This should be a last resort, but if the customer continues to demand a resolution you cannot provide or is becoming agitated, calling your supervisor serves two purposes. First, it will reassure your customer that you are truly invested in resolving the problem. Second, it will provide an added level of authority to the situation. Your supervisor may be able to suggest a resolution that you simply are not authorized to provide. At this point, you should introduce the customer to your supervisor, give your supervisor a brief, nonjudgmental recap of the situation, and allow them to talk privately.

Sometimes a difficult customer will demand to talk to your supervisor before you suggest it. The surest way to upset a customer is to tell him or her: "The supervisor will tell you the same thing I am telling you, so there is no need to talk to him." This will absolutely infuriate some customers! The message a comment like that sends is that either you do not feel they are worth the supervisor's time or you are trying to protect yourself from getting into trouble with your boss. Even if you know the supervisor cannot offer any solution you have not already tried, the very act of being able to talk to "someone in charge" will often bring an irate customer's anger down several notches because they feel more in control of the situation.

Difficult customers can be disconcerting, but understanding and acknowledging their concerns are two important steps in helping to resolve conflicts. If you can defuse the situation and negotiate a solution, you can turn a difficult customer situation into a positive outcome.