How Sellers Should Deal With Toxic Customers

BY Jessica Helinski
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In sales, you likely deal with a variety of people, including potentially toxic customers. And you’re expected to be able to work well with others, no matter how unpleasant they may be. While it’s important to maintain professionalism, it’s also important to be treated fairly and with respect. 

These problematic clients aren’t just bad for your mental health. They can wreak havoc on your company’s business as well. 

These toxic customers can damage your business in the long run,” writes David Morton Rintoul for LinkedIn. “Sales teams dread approaching them, and they feel frustrated after every interaction.”

How to to Identify Toxic Customers

Not every upset or angry client you encounter will be toxic. Just like everyone else, your clients will have a bad day, get emotion or be argumentative. Toxicity, though, is different than just being in a bad mood. It will manifest in consistently difficult behaviors that often target someone else. 

In an article for SmartBrief, Naphtali Hoff, Psy.D., president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting, shared insights into common toxic behaviors.

  • Abusive language and behavior. “Customers who use offensive or abusive language, verbally attack employees or engage in aggressive behavior can create a hostile environment for your staff,” he explains.
  • Manipulative tactics. These clients will use emotional tactics, including manipulation, to get what they want. 
  • Never satisfied. Morton Rintoul agrees that this is a very common sign of toxicity. He notes that, “Toxic customers are never satisfied with the product or service your firm delivers. They invariably press your team to deliver even more or to do things their way, even when their way makes no sense.”
  • Violates boundaries and policies. These customers have no respect for things like personal space or requests. Nor do they want to follow terms and policies, becoming aggressive when confronted. 

Keep in mind these are only a few common traits. Toxicity can include a wide range of negative behaviors. As Jennifer Casarella, MD writes for WebMD, “A toxic person is anyone whose behavior adds negativity and upset to your life.”

Tips For Dealing 

Hoff has some suggestions for those who are working with toxic customers. First, he recommends maintaining your own calm and composure. This won’t always be easy but it’s important. Doing so will help you stay clear headed and professional. 

For advice on how to maintain composure when faced with emotional clients, take a look at this SalesFuel article

And try not to take it personally. This can be difficult, but it’s important to acknowledge that you are not the underlying cause of this behavior. Just as importantly, what they say or do is not a reflection of your value or your abilities. Keeping this in mind can help you emotionally detach yourself from the situation.

Another tip is to establish clear boundaries. “While it’s important to listen, you should also establish boundaries for acceptable behavior,” Hoff writes. “Firmly but politely communicate that abusive or disrespectful language and behavior will not be tolerated.”

Engage in active listening to uncover what their issue is. Then, offer clear solutions and try to establish common ground. If this is also proving difficult, don’t be afraid to involve your manager. They may have more experience dealing with the situation and can also offer support. 

Know When to Disengage and Walk Away

Are your attempts at working with a toxic customer improving things? If not, it may be time to take a step back and make some tough decisions. 

If the customer continues to be toxic, disrespectful or abusive despite your attempts to address the issue, it may be necessary to disengage from the interaction,” Hoff suggests. “Inform them that you cannot assist further and offer alternative avenues for them to pursue.”

The toxic customer may even be doing more harm than good for your entire firm. This is a time to have some serious discussions with your manager. No customer is worth your mental health or your company’s bottom line.

Photo by Edmond Dantès