6 Tips for Providing Effective Customer Service

This article gives you a glimpse of what you can learn with Shortform. Shortform has the world’s best guides to 1000+ nonfiction books, plus other resources to help you accelerate your learning.

Want to learn faster and get smarter? Sign up for a free trial here .

Do you work in customer service? Do you deal with difficult customers often?

Customer service isn’t always easy. Sometimes, you’ll be in a situation where a customer is unhappy with a product or service and you have to find a solution for them. Fortunately, we have several tips to help you handle challenging customers. 

Learn how to deal with difficult customers with these effective methods.

Why Each Customer’s Experience Matters

In Raving Fans, Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles argue that customer experience is the impression your customers have of your business as a whole. Your customers judge their experiences with you based on the emotions they feel during the total of their interactions with you. This means that if they have a bad experience during one stage of their interactions with you, their judgment of you will go down regardless of how excellent the rest of your service was. This judgment impacts their sense of loyalty to you. Therefore, a great customer experience comes from providing excellence at every stage of contact, no matter how difficult the customer is being.

According to one customer loyalty report, 63% of consumers confirmed they’d consider moving to a competitor after a single bad experience.

However, the impact of a single negative customer experience doesn’t simply end with the loss of current revenue. Consumers are quick to vent their frustrations in public ways and these complaints rarely go unnoticed. Consider these statistics:

  • 93% of consumers base their decisions on online reviews.
  • 80% of consumers won’t buy from businesses with negative reviews.

Therefore, a single negative customer experience doesn’t just result in the loss of existing customers, but also damages your reputation and has detrimental effects on your ability to acquire new customers.

5 Strategies for Working With Difficult Customers

The good news is that it’s possible to manage customer experiences, even when the individual may be challenging to deal with. To provide the best service possible to satisfy difficult customers, follow these tips below.

1. Remain Calm

If a customer is either hostile, has a complaint, or is just taking a very long time to make a decision, stay calm. You might begin to feel frustrated with the customer, but stooping to their level will hurt your reputation.

When you’re in the middle of a conversation with a customer, you can’t take the time to meditate or do intense breathing exercises to calm yourself. But there are a few discreet ways you can remain calm in these situations, according to Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking:

  • Empty the mind. The author recommends emptying the mind when talking to a difficult customer. When you consciously empty your mind of fear, insecurities, regrets, and other negative emotions, you’ll experience relief and release. This will make it easier to find a solution to their problems.
  • Refill the mind. After you empty the mind, you have to refill it with positive, healthy thoughts and peaceful images, or the old miserable thoughts will just come sneaking back in again. Practice thinking peaceful thoughts. Visualize a peaceful scene you once encountered, such as a lovely beach. These peaceful images are healing.
  • Say peaceful words. The author calls this “suggestive articulation.” Words have power; repeating anxious, panicky words helps produce a state of anxiety and panic. But speaking peaceful words helps keep your mind calm. This also helps keep the conversation positive, instead of focusing on the negative.

2. Address Customer Objections

Once you feel calm and collected, you should address your customer’s objections. Why aren’t your customers buying your products? Is your product what they’re even looking for? Let’s look at five common reasons customers aren’t purchasing from you, according to Zig Ziglar in Secrets of Closing the Sale

They Don’t Need the Product

Customers will argue that they don’t need your product, warns Ziglar. In such cases, the lead often simply doesn’t have enough information to understand how the product will benefit them. Ask questions to glean what they don’t yet understand and then provide the missing information to show the product will improve their life. 

They Don’t Want the Product

Ziglar asserts that customers may tell you they don’t want the product (this differs from the first objection in that “wanting” implies an emotional desire while “needing” implies a utilitarian requirement). To address the customer’s lack of desire for the product, make them consider that not buying means missing out on something. For instance, if your customer doesn’t desire your smartwatch, explain that they’re missing out on the ability to share their exercise regimen with their friends. 

They Don’t Feel It’s Urgent to Buy Now

Many customers also don’t feel they need the product immediately, writes Ziglar. To overcome the customer’s lack of urgency, first agree that there’s no rush, then tell them that if they wait for the perfect moment to make the purchase, they’ll spend all that time without the product when they could be enjoying it now. 

They Think the Product is Too Expensive

Many customers pass because they don’t feel the cost of the product reflects its value, asserts Ziglar. Therefore, point out the value of your product by showing that it’s more satisfying and of higher quality than a cheaper product. For example, you might explain that your smartwatch is more expensive than competitors’ because of its superior battery life, which lets you use it more before recharging.

They Don’t Trust You

It’s possible the customer doesn’t want the product because they don’t trust you, writes Ziglar. This is the hardest objection to overcome, and it’s best to preempt it by adhering to the qualities of a good salesperson. It’s nearly impossible to change the mind of someone who doesn’t trust you.

3. Apologize if Necessary

If you’ve made a mistake, don’t deceive yourself that you’ll be able to cover it up. Take a lesson from the 1989 Exxon environmental disaster, when the tanker Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Exxon turned its mistake into a public relations disaster by not responding to the crisis immediately. The media crucified them. 

In contrast, when Ashland Oil spilled oil into a river near Pittsburgh, the company chairman traveled to the scene immediately, held a press conference, and got crews working on cleaning up the mess. By managing the crisis openly and immediately, the company saved face. 

Even if your mistake isn’t as large as the Exxon example, it still needs to be addressed, especially if a customer is complaining about it. Here’s how to get the most out of an apology to your customer, according to Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

Make Your Apologies Effective

There’s no single right way to apologize, but one of the worst ways is being overly formal: “I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.” The word “may” implies some doubt over whether or not an inconvenience actually occurred, and “I apologize” sounds distant and standoffish. Use the more direct “I’m sorry.”

When you’re considering the best way to apologize, think about what you’d want to hear if you were on the receiving end. Consider whether you would believe the apology you’ve crafted.

Provide Speedy Customer Service 

When it comes to your company’s reputation, great customer service is critical. Customers hate being put on hold. They hate hearing canned messages about how much the company cares about them even though no one will take their call. But customers are over-the-moon happy when their calls or emails are answered with speedy, personalized service. 

You don’t even need to have a perfect solution to their problem or question. Just saying you’ll look into it and get back to them will make them feel valued. (But make sure you do follow through, or you’ll lose their trust.) 

4. Show Empathy

You should also show empathy for your customer, advises Ziglar in Secrets of Closing the Sale. Empathy is understanding how someone else feels (even if you don’t currently share that feeling) and then taking steps to help the person deal with that feeling. 

Empathy is effective in sales because customers are motivated to buy when they feel understood and cared for, claims Ziglar. Empathy also helps you fix the customer’s problem because, by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, you can gear your solution to their specific needs, thereby increasing your chances of success. 

Listen to the Customer

To be empathetic, develop both impeccable listening skills, insists Ziglar. Pay close attention not only to what the customer says but also to what their body language indicates. A customer’s body language often shows how they really feel: They might tell you they’re not interested in your product but unconsciously touch it or move closer to it, which indicates interest. When you fully understand what the customer feels, you can respond empathetically to those feelings. 

Additionally, record yourself making pitches and listen back to fine-tune your delivery, advises Ziglar. Your inflection has huge persuasive power, so it’s important to learn how to use your voice to convey your sales pitch and your sincerity about helping the customer. Also, listen for negative words in your pitch and eliminate them from your selling vocabulary. These include terms that imply unhappiness or pain and frame the sale as a financial transaction (avoid words like “deal,” “sale,” and “close,” for example). Additionally, use the most elegant or formal version of any word (for instance, use “wardrobe” instead of “closet”).  

  • To be empathetic, develop impeccable listening skills. Not only does listening help you deal with customers’ complaints, but listening also helps you understand customers’ reasons for buying (or not buying) and what kind of customers they are.
  • To become a better listener, you need to stay focused on the customer, wait for your turn to speak, and show curiosity for the customer’s desires

The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer says that listening is probably the most important part of selling. Not only does it help you deal with customers’ complaints, but listening also helps you understand customers’ reasons for buying (or not buying) and what kind of customers they are. This understanding then enables you to make a better sales pitch. 

However, many salespeople undervalue the importance of listening. Gitomer says that’s because they prejudge the other person, think they already know what the other person is going to say, or have other thoughts that distract them from the conversation.

To become a better listener, Gitomer gives the following tips:

  1. Stay focused. Use listening noises (“I see,” “What happened next?”), put your mobile phone on silent mode, and practice mindfulness to keep your mind from wandering.
  2. Wait for your turn. Don’t interrupt, even if you think you already know how to respond.
  3. Be curious. Ask questions to clarify what the other person said, help you get more information, and demonstrate that you’re interested in what they have to say.

5. You Can’t Please Everyone

While this may be counterintuitive, you have to understand that it’s okay to lose customers sometimes. Dealing with difficult customers means deciding when and if you can meet their requests for improvements or upgrades to your product. Customers may request modifications, but that doesn’t mean you should make them—even if it means your customers outgrow your product. If you’re not comfortable making changes to your product, it might be time to accept that you’re losing a customer—which is okay.

Don’t Say Yes to Modifications

Your customers may ask you to add features to your product. Don’t say yes just because they’re customers. Make “no” your default answer. Liberal use of the word “no” keeps you focused on your priorities rather than distracted by continual product tweaks. (Of course, your “no” must be polite. Explain your reasons and most people will understand.) 

As a corollary to this principle, don’t bother keeping track of all the upgrade requests your customers ask for. If they’re asking for something worthwhile, you’ll hear that request so often and from so many people that there’s no way you can forget it. If they’re asking for something unimportant, you’ll forget their request, and that’s fine. 

ING Direct is the fastest-growing bank in America because they say no. They’ve streamlined their business—they don’t offer credit cards or online brokerage, just various types of savings accounts. A customer who wants more than that has to find a different bank. 

It’s Okay to Lose Customers 

If your customers outgrow your product(s) or aren’t satisfied with your best solution, that’s fine. Don’t make it your goal to keep the same customers forever by making frequent product tweaks to accommodate their needs. Instead of changing your product, find new customers who need your product exactly as it is. Aim to appeal to a certain type of customer rather than any one individual whose needs may change over time. 

Final Words

Difficult customers make your job harder, but it’s a part of the customer service industry. The key things to remember when handling a problem are to stay calm, listen attentively, and try to find a satisfactory solution. That way, your customers will see that your business is one to return to in the future.

Have you ever dealt with a difficult customer? Share how you handled the experience below.

How to Deal With Difficult Customers: 5 Proven Tactics

Want to fast-track your learning? With Shortform, you’ll gain insights you won't find anywhere else .

Here's what you’ll get when you sign up for Shortform :

  • Complicated ideas explained in simple and concise ways
  • Smart analysis that connects what you’re reading to other key concepts
  • Writing with zero fluff because we know how important your time is

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.