How to manage difficult customers

  • Published on: 5 June 2017
  • By: Paula
Upset customers
Anyone who has worked in a customer facing environment such as a hotel, bar, restaurant, shop or hospital will have at least one story about a difficult customer.  It’s almost a rite of passage when working with the public on a daily basis.  As someone with a background in the hospitality industry I’ve experienced my share of these, some of which I managed to resolve successfully but also a few where I wasn’t as happy with the outcome or that needed someone else’s help to deal with.
As there are more methods for people to vent their frustration and anger these days, through social media and online review sites as well as the old fashioned way of telling friends and family, it is especially important to handle any complaints or disagreements carefully.  Negative feedback can spread quickly.
Stay calm
Your attitude and actions can have a significant impact on the situation; remaining calm, professional and making sure your body-language matches your words can help to de-escalate the customer’s anger. 
Active listening
Understanding the problem is the first step to being able to resolve it, and allowing the customer to talk gives them the opportunity to release some of their frustration.  It is amazing how many people don’t really know how to listen, they spend the time while the other person is talking thinking about what they want to say or they interrupt thinking they know what they are being told.  In a conflict situation this will only escalate things and give the customer something else to be unhappy about.
Make sure you understand and show that you empathise
When they have finished talking, ask questions or clarify any points and repeat the problem back to them so they know you have been listening and have understood their concerns.  Sometimes it just takes someone to listen and empathise with you to calm things down.  One of the most frustrating things can be talking to someone who doesn’t listen or understand.
Can you solve the problem?
It can often be best to let the customer tell you how they think the situation could be improved, what would enable them to leave, if not happy then, satisfied.  Working for a large hotel chain in the United States, this was what I was advised – ask the customer what we could do to resolve things and if possible do it.  Obviously this won’t work in every situation, but it may be possible to find out what they want and reach a mutually acceptable solution.  It is also a good idea (when you can) to do something extra that they don’t expect or ask for, this could be as simple as a written apology. 
Learn from each experience
When a customer has a valid complaint or problem and you’ve addressed it to their satisfaction, make sure you learn from the situation.  Make changes if necessary to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again – to them or any other customer.
Also learn from the actions you have taken, the customers reaction to you and the way you dealt with the problem.  Reflect on the situation and use the experience to improve your skills.
Key things to remember
  • Stay calm
  • Be patient
  • Listen & empathise
  • Keep your words & body language non-confrontational
  • It’s not personal
Good or bad feedback
If you can successfully deal with a difficult customer, listen to their problem and find a solution so they are able to leave satisfied, they will remember.  They will remember that you cared and understood, and solved their problem – and that is what they will tell people. 
You can be responsible for a good review or comment on social media, rather than a negative or angry one.
Leisuresec PLC
At Leisuresec we understand the importance of customer service and make sure the security guards we provide are trained in conflict management and communication skills.  We have experience in the hospitality, leisure, retail and healthcare sectors and work with each of our clients to provide bespoke site specific training.
By taking a partnership approach from the start, our Contract Managers are able to fully understand your needs and company culture, enabling them to identify the right guards from our pool of candidates.  If you would like the final say, we can provide a short list of guards for you to choose, alternatively we can manage the process for you.
Once the guards start working, we want to make sure you are 100% happy.  If you have any concerns we will address them quickly and can replace guards with no fuss.
We know that Leisuresec’s Security Guards tend to be the first and last people seen by our client’s customers and members of the public, and that these impressions last.