In business, negative interactions with customers are just as common as positive ones. While it’s easy to dwell on the less-than-pleasant experiences that may make you question whether it’s worth it to continue on in your entrepreneurial journey, all it takes is a perspective change to see those experiences for what they truly are: opportunities to make your customers feel seen and heard.
To start and maintain a successful business, business owners have to learn how to address and overcome challenging situations with customers. To help entrepreneurs get a better handle on these challenges, 14 Forbes Business Council members share effective strategies for dealing with difficult customers or clients.
1. Gather The Facts
As challenging as it may be, I suggest stepping into the situation as quickly as possible and securing the facts with an objective lens. Have the facts ready before the interaction for a quick resolution. If it is your mistake, own it, apologize, use it as an opportunity to redeem yourself and then overperform. If it is not your mistake, then use it as an opportunity to educate the client and see how you can help them from there. – Mark Costanza, MobileSmith Health, Inc.
2. Validate Customer Concerns
Listen and acknowledge to the customer that their concerns are valid. Most people just want to feel heard. One key piece of communication I prefer to use with difficult customers is, “I completely understand where you are coming from, and I greatly appreciate your patience and flexibility as we resolve this.” No one really likes just an apology, so give them something better by fixing it. – Sam Kaufman, On The Level Construction, LLC
3. Find And Implement A Solution
Take action by acknowledging the complaint, finding a solution and implementing the resolution. Listen without interrupting, apologize, be transparent and don’t play the blame game. Sometimes customers write reviews to feel powerful. Sometimes they write them because their experience actually sucked. Either way, being active in finding a resolution will help keep your brand’s reputation intact. – Yasmin Walter, KMD Books
4. Be Honest
Customers who are giving negative feedback may be better customers than the ones not giving any feedback! Often, what they are really telling you is that they want to stay with you if you can solve their issues. The best strategy is to be completely honest. If you made a mistake, own it. If it was their mistake, let them know and offer information or training to help avoid such mistakes in the future. – Jai Rawat, Zinrelo
5. Work With Customers To Fix Issues
The key to turning around a poor customer experience is to listen carefully and discover what need or want isn’t being met. Then, with empathy guiding you on how they probably want that need or want met, take immediate action. It starts by saying, “I’m sorry that this isn’t working for you. Let’s see how we can fix it together.” By committing to work together on a solution, the tension is broken and the path reopens. – Jerry Cahn, Age Brilliantly
6. Always Remain Professional
Focus the client’s attention on your desire to help them. Show empathy but also show your strength and confidence. Angry people feed on weakness. If you did wrong, admit it and fix it. If they are just venting, listen patiently. That said, there is no need to deal with a person who has become disrespectful of you or your employees. Being difficult is okay, but being disrespectful is not. – Matthew Claassen, Medigap Seminars LLC
7. Remain Calm
Firstly, stay calm. You don’t want their behavior to throw you off your game. Sometimes customers feel like they didn’t get enough information or made an uninformed decision. When you listen and show empathy, you give them space to work through those feelings. Always try to understand what they’re saying—don’t just jump in with an answer without being sure you’ll get it right! – Rakesh Soni, LoginRadius
8. Genuinely Listen
It is important to genuinely listen when customers or clients raise concerns. Don’t interrupt, remain calm and use body language that conveys you are listening. Thank them for the feedback and validate the concern. Often, people want to be heard, so creating the space for them to express their concerns can be the first step to addressing the issue. – Stephanie Schwartz, Little Bean Group
9. Manage Expectations
We call it “managing expectations.” This should be done before a project starts and also throughout the process. Check in to be sure expectations are being met by both parties. If a problem arises, it is best to know what remedy will be mutually beneficial. – Joan McKinney, Aurora Exhibit Solutions, Inc.
10. Focus On Doing The Right Thing
Quit trying to be right, and instead do the right thing. I have seen this shift tense situations into collaborative sessions in an instant. This strategy allows people to let their guard down and get to the heart of the matter. Being right isn’t really important in the long run, and you will feel better by doing the right thing. – Joe Crandall, Greencastle Associates Consulting
11. Maintain Mutually Respectful Relationships
The cookie-cutter answer is to be patient, but if your client is rude, disrespectful or verbally abusive, you don’t have to be patient or hear them out. Reps should stand up for themselves, and leaders should stand up for their employees. This doesn’t mean lose your cool or be rude to your rude clients, but don’t be afraid to fire an abusive customer. Saying, “It’s best if we don’t work together anymore” is the best way to go. – Ammar Dayani, Prince Distribution
12. Approach With Empathy
In order to fully understand the thought process of a customer or client who brings up difficulties, it is essential that leaders and team members approach the situation with a full scope of empathy for users. By being able to understand what made a customer discouraged, upset or unhappy, you will have the ability to accurately assess the situation and deliver insight that will help. – Christian Brown, Glewee
13. Be The Bigger Person
Remember that it is the way of the world and not to take it too personally. There will always be difficult people, and oftentimes a customer who is rude to you is rude to others too. Just remember to hold yourself high and do your best work; just because a customer is rude does not mean you also need to be rude. It may be hard, but being the bigger person is definitely the way to go. – Josh Thompson, Thompson Construction
14. Stay True To Yourself
When interacting with a difficult client or customer, it can be easy to get caught up in their energy or demands in a rush to please them and move on. Stay true to yourself, mind your own boundaries and never lose sight of your company’s mission. You may be surprised to see how your own composure or grace can diffuse a situation and encourage others to go with your flow. – Sara Abbas, Ev0lver, Inc.