7 Things About Difficult Customers You May Not Have Known
By Cassandre Pierre
You know who they are because every single business owner, entrepreneur, freelancer, employee or shop floor assistant has had to deal with at least one of them.
They are difficult customers.
If you want an exception to prove the rule, difficult customers are that exception to the Pareto Rule – they are the 20% of clients who take up 80% of your time with unreasonable demands, unfair comments, monopolizing your staff’s time, and spreading disharmony among your colleagues and customers.
They’re not fun. But let’s have some fun by playing spot the customer. You won’t need binoculars or a field guide to their nesting habits. You’ll probably find your own experiences come immediately to mind.
Recognize any of these?
“I don’t really know…” she says. “I know I said I wanted the pink one, but I’m not sure if I really need one at all. What do you think?”
You can be pretty sure that the wrong thing to do is to offer an opinion. The right thing to do is to get this lady’s decision into written form the second she makes it. Get her to sign it, stamp it or mark her X on it to show that any change after this is firmly her decision and the cost of such a decision lies with her.
“What’s a weekend?”
The words immortalized by the Duchess of Downton in Downton Abbey. This is the type of person who doesn’t understand that you need time off, you have a family to care for, a social life, other customers – or that you even sleep.
They want everything and they want it now, like yesterday!
How to deal with customers who want it NOW:
This is where customer education comes into play. Always create a written or printed document (a web page if you operate online) that outlines the time it takes to complete the projects you offer.
If it’s a physical product they expect fast delivery on just explain that you are at the mercy of the shipping company and ask if there are any other purchases they would like to make now that you have them on the phone?
“I know I said you could do what you want, but I didn’t mean that!”
He’ll be the guy who lets you have carte blanche when it comes to fulfilling his order – until you’ve put the long hours in and bust a git to deliver on time.
Then he’ll decide that everything you’ve done is wrong – and wonder how you managed to make such a mess of things, considering how specific he was in his instructions.
How to deal with the client who doesn’t know what he/she wants:
Decide on the critical stages of a project when you need to clarify your client’s thoughts and get their input at those times – along every step of the way. It may take extra time but it will show that you are working on the project and take away any excuse for their change of mind at completion.
“It’s an emergency!”
This lady will want to jump straight to the top of the queue in your store or expect you drop all other clients online. She is in need, and you must pander to her.
How to deal with the “always an emergency” person:
Remind this lady that you have other customers – and that they are all as worthy of your service as she is. Establish a clear timeline to respond to her emergency and assure her that you will do so.
Just make sure that you do.
This penny pincher will moan and complain about how much a $7 product costs or look for a refund on the digital purchase of the same magnitude.
He lives in a world of scarcity where he can only buy the very cheapest products and he buys every one of them.
How to deal with the penny pincher:
This kind of customer is the type you need to educate about getting quality from your products or services. When you take the time to educate him on how to get the very best from your products he should understand the savings he can make when purchasing one of your products versus a dozen $7 “cost savers”.
“Can I just take 5 minutes of your time?”
Aka, the time thief. This client/customer will bombard you with questions either in person or via email because he/she won’t take the time to learn about your product through the printed leaflet, online FAQ, customer support forum or YouTube channel you have provided for them.
How to deal with Time Thieves:
Explain that you don’t even have 5 minutes because you are busy making your product even more awesome or ordering more for other happy customers. Point him towards your site FAQ or hand him/her a leaflet and ask has he/she had the time to read it.
If he/she hasn’t ask them to come back to you at a time that’s convenient after reading the instructions and you will be happy to help.
In a brick and mortar store? The 5 Minute guy will point out the delays inherent in his having to come back. At this point, this is one of the few times it’s perfectly okay to delegate the customer to a colleague who hasn’t had to deal with him before.
“I just have to check something/with someone.”
The Guy Who’s Wife or Partner Makes His Decisions for Him (also known as The Girl Who Has to Ask Her Friend)
You’re just closing the deal and he has to go make a quick call or check with the committee. You’re pretty sure he didn’t grasp everything you explained to him about the product and that he is about to relay a lot of false information in this phone call.
A lot of false information that is about to cause a storm of questions that will take a long time to untangle to get at the truth.
How to deal with Mr. Decision-by-vote:
Ask that you speak to one representative who knows what questions need to be asked.
If it truly is a guy who’s buying something he clearly knows nothing about but has been instructed to buy – ask him if he’d care for you to talk to his partner on the phone and thus help lessen his own stress by fielding the queries for him.
If it’s a committee making decisions on a freelance project – ask to deal directly with the head of the committee so that they can act as a central communicator.
“Isn’t that included in the price?”
This customer wants to squeeze every last drop from you and will feign ignorance about what’s included in a product or service in the hope that you will want to avoid a confrontation enough that you’ll just hand it over to get rid of her.
How to deal with pressure from squeezers:
Clearly label every product and describe every service so that there is no room for error or uncertainty. Only in this way will you prevent misunderstanding.
Customer Service & Difficult Customers
While it’s fun to play a game like this, it’s no laughing matter when you’re faced with one of these guys in your day-to-day life and especially not when their behavior undermines your business or you as a person.
Since haggling fell out of fashion, and shopping became a sport as much as a requirement, the role of customer service has grown. With every year that passes, more products and services than ever are being created often without a clear marketplace in mind, and just as often with no clear idea of who the product is for and what problem it solves for the customer.
Advertising tries to be clever too clever to the point that sometimes customers can remember an ad for its humor or clever technology but have no recollection whatsoever about what it was trying to sell.
Add a hectic lifestyle to the general confusion around marketing messages, product or service limitations, competitor promises, and social pressure, and the result can be a very difficult customer whose demands are unrealistic by anyone’s terms.
Equally, since shopping became necessary to attain good and services, so too has the role of customer service become a core part of the shopping experience.
Businesses become well known and applauded for their stellar service – or the originality of their customer care. Some become best known for their lack of customer care.
But there’s no doubt that those who choose to excel in providing a positive customer experience seem unique in the customers’ eyes for doing so.
Many popular figures have achieved a place in our history books simply by becoming the best they could be at providing excellent customer service: Amazon, Nordstrom, and Apple between them.
They were people whose response to difficult customers was to learn and adapt in a way that modernized customer service and elevated it to a skill.
Almost anyone can hone their customer service skills and learn how to deal with even the most awkward customers and clients. In doing so, they prove that it doesn’t take a diploma or degree to become an excellent business person it just takes the right attitude and the willingness to see problems as opportunities to create a better business.