When The Customer Isn’t Right – Handling Bad Customers


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It’s smart business to keep customers happy, since the White House Office of Consumer Affairs estimates that a single angry customer will tell from nine to 15 people about his bad experience. It is also likely that the number is even higher with today’s focus on social media interaction.

However, some customers are so difficult that there simply isn’t any way to please them. When you’ve exhausted every reasonable avenue to satisfy the customer and he is demanding, persistent, or threating, you may have to figure out another plan of action. Is there a way to salvage the situation and protect your reputation? Is it better to walk away from that customer and seek other customers who will be more reasonable?

Dealing with Yelling, Cursing, Verbal Abuse
The 2013 Customer Rage Survey showed that there has been a significant increase in yelling and cursing since the last survey. Yelling was up 11% and cursing was up 6%. How can you know when yelling and cursing crosses the line?

  • Have a policy in place before the verbal abuse occurs. Are there certain words your customer service reps should draw the line at? If the person starts dropping the F-bomb every other word, does the rep have permission to disconnect the call?
  • Have a prepared statement for handling cursing, such as, “I’m sorry, but I cannot help you while you are cursing at me. I am going to hang up now and when you are ready to discuss this calmly without cursing, please phone back.”
  • Choose a specific spokesperson to handle abusive customers. Author Sherry Derr-Wille retired from Douglas Refrigeration and Heating in Janesville, WI, where she worked for many years. Although she could usually please most customers, there was one occasion that a customer was being verbally abusive and her boss had to step in and take action.

“The customer [phoned] and called me every name in the book. I hadn’t worked there very long and, when my boss came in, I was in tears. He had me call them back. When I had the man on the line, he told the man he’d be out for the rest of his money and considering the way he’d treated me we would no longer do work for them,” shared Derr-Wille.

Having a policy that abusive customers are referred to an owner or management makes business sense. The higher ups in the company can either satisfy the customer’s concerns or make the decision to no longer do business with an abusive individual.

How to Handle a Threat
Another scenario involves a customer who grows so angry he makes extreme threats. Perhaps he says, “I am going to come back and kill everyone here.” When such extreme threats are made, it is wise to take them seriously.

The FBI offers some tools to help people assess the risk of a threat. The best thing to do is to gather together a team of decision makers and ask some key questions provided by the FBI:

  • How unstable is this person or does he seem? Was the threat made in the heat of the moment and then the person calmed down and apologized? How serious was he?
  • What does the person want? Can the problem be solved and the person satisfied?
  • Does the person have any known history? Does he come in every week and make a threat? Perhaps he has a criminal background that is of concern. Go through the different scenarios and then make a decision as a team. If the threat is severe enough, law enforcement may need to become involved.

Answering Demands
A client calls and says, “You will do this and you will do it now.” Another client calls every day and demands service calls for various issues. HVAC customer service specialist Derr-Wille tells the story of a local Asian restaurant owner. The company she worked for also provided refrigeration needs for commercial clients. One customer, named Wong, called a few times too many.

“Wong would go in streaks of calling every day to say his cooler was either too cold or too warm. Finally, on a Friday, my boss had had enough and told me to tell him we wouldn’t be coming back out and we wouldn’t charge him for what we’d done that week.”

Derr-Wille thought that would be the end of it, but the man called again on Saturday morning wanting service. “I finally told him we were no longer coming out to work on his equipment. There was dead silence on the line, then he finally got, and they didn’t receive further calls from the man after that.

If a customer gets angry, blows up, is satisfied with your solution and moves on, then you’ve dealt with a simple customer service issue. However, if you or your employees feel threatened, extremely uncomfortable, or abused, it is time to take more drastic action. Not every customer is worth having, especially if their actions destroy your peace of mind, steal time from your company or threaten your safety.

Lori Soard

Posted In: Customer Service, Management

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