How Sellers Can Satisfy Their Most Difficult Customers

BY Jessica Helinski
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While a lot of attention is shown to winning new business, servicing and retaining current clients is just as important. And when it comes to especially difficult customers in sales, how you handle these situations can have an impact on satisfaction and future business. 

As SalesFuel’s Rachel Cagle explains, “The realm of customer service should never be far from your mind. We all know it's far less difficult and expensive to sell a product or service upgrade to an existing customer. If you've treated your client well, the next sale will be easier.”

But not every customer you have is going to be easy to handle, testing your professionalism and impacting their satisfaction. 

Common types of difficult customers 

In her article for Business News Daily, Skye Schooley profiles several types of “difficult” customers that sellers encounter. “Sometimes you'll need to defuse tense situations with customers…since difficult customers are inevitable, you and your team must know how to effectively resolve customer conflicts,” she explains. 

Common types you’ll encounter include:

  • The impatient customer. Whether they have been waiting for a specific feature or simply an answer to a question, they are not happy with having to do so. 
  • The angry customer. These can be especially difficult to deal with because they often lose control of their emotions.
  • The demanding customer. This type zaps your time and energy with countless requests and demands. 
  • The indecisive customer. Once you’ve gotten their business, these customers have a tough time making decisions, such as how to actually implement your solution.

Practice patience and listen

The many types of difficult customers all require at least one common thing from sellers: patience. 

Schooley explains that the best way to handle this is to tap into your own patience. Don’t let their restlessness, panic or frustration feed your own emotions. Instead, be the calm presence to balance them. From the very moment you hear their issue or receive their request, make sure you embrace a helpful mindset rather than get defensive. 

Listen thoroughly to what they are saying. It’s important that the customer feels heard. Even if it’s the fifth time they’ve contacted you that day, demonstrate active listening skills to show you are hearing them. 

Empathy before solutions

Once you’ve listened, empathize with the customer. Don’t be dismissive but rather show you care about them and their satisfaction. And prioritize demonstrating empathy over rushing to offer a solution. “Show respectfully that you understand why they are upset, and try to put yourself in their position to see how you might feel in a similar situation,” writes Jennifer Harrity for Indeed​.com. “This might help place you in a more understanding frame of mind to craft a solution.” Then, assure them that you are dedicated to making things right.

Stay calm

It’s vital that even though you’ve committed to practicing patience, it doesn’t mean that the difficult customer will. Keep your voice low, and if in-​person, try to maintain eye contact and practice supportive body language, such as nodding. “Remind the customer that you are there to help them and are their best immediate chance of resolving the situation,” Schooley suggests. “This simple statement often helps defuse the situation.”

For tips on how to maintain emotional control, even when a customer is shouting or in tears, check out SalesFuel’s advice here. Maintaining control in tense situations can be practiced and honed; consider role-​playing or breathing practices to prepare for working with difficult customers. 

And don’t neglect how you feel after an encounter. If the customer was especially volatile, it’s normal to feel rattled. “Speak to a friend, take some calming deep breaths or if time and rules permit, go for a short walk to clear your mind before returning to your duties,” Herrity suggests.

Make a plan and follow up

Finally, even if you don’t have an exact answer or solution, plan the next step and clearly outline that step. It could simply be a promise to make a follow-​up call. Just make sure that the customer has an idea of what to expect next. Then, thank them. Each interaction with a difficult customer is an opportunity to make things better for them and add even more value to the relationship. As Cagle notes, “At the end of all of this, there will be a number of things to thank the client for. One, that they reached out to you with their problems instead of trying to fix everything themselves. Two, for being patient with you during the fixing process. Three, that they still trust you with their business.”

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko