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Turning difficult customers around

By: Paul du Toit – regular contributor

If you can’t see them coming, you can usually hear them or, at worst, smell the burning rubber!

Difficult customers can be the bane of our lives, the kind of people who take up large chunks of our valuable time, nit-picking seemingly trivial issues and actually costing us money in the process. They are the kind of folk we’d like to shepherd gently in to a barrel of over-fermented port and roll over the cliffs of Dover. But it’s not always the best remedy for our irritation and here’s why…

There’s a fair chance that, if you find someone difficult to deal with, others may be experiencing the same problem with that person. That person’s experience is that the world is a hostile and unfriendly place with a whole bunch of folk just waiting to get at them. Their response becomes habitual: to give everyone hell most of the time. This, of course, places you in the firing line along with everyone else.

Imagine their surprise when, instead of becoming defensive and reactive, you buck the trend and genuinely try to help this person, despite their crabby attitude. Once they’ve gotten over the surprise of being treated like a valuable human, you may have won yourself a fan! Difficult folk are unpleasant to most other people. They annoy practically everyone. When you make the effort to exercise tolerance which they are not accustomed to receiving, you break the pattern, and could run the risk of discovering the nice person hiding inside them who’s been struggling to come out. So often, your difficult customer is a frustrated person with poor communication skills crying desperately for help.

This tactic may, however, not work with everyone. Some customers respond to your gentle approach by trying even harder to be nasty. So here’s a neat suggestion that may prevent you from slipping over the edge and getting yourself a criminal record.

If you have someone in your organisation performing a similar function to you, suggest a 50/50 swap. You’ll take on a handful of their difficult customers in exchange for a quid pro quo handful of theirs. By each starting on a clean slate with one another’s tough ones, pre-armed with information on that customer, you both have an opportunity to develop fresh relationships knowing what you are going to be dealing with in advance.

Result? Stress reduced, a bunch of thawed out ‘no longer so difficult customers’ and your profitability sustained. All because you were proactive instead of reacting emotionally.

This leads us to an important version of the difficult customer – the complainer. The large corporates that can afford to, have been known to spend hefty sums on customer service surveys to find out what they’re doing right and wrong. The information is often quite general and varied. The cost is high, and goes out of date quickly.

Read the full article on page 53 of the June 2015 issue of RACA Journal.

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