Being in the service industry, it’s not uncommon to hear tales about unreasonable clients or clients who just keep pushing employees to the limits. It’s no secret that some of us have a love-hate relationship with customer service. Much more love than hate though, else one wouldn’t be here for the right reasons.

Some of us may also have heard “the customer is always right” and “customer is king”. You may have also heard this variation “the customer is always right… only if he/she is the right customer.”

Well, a couple of weeks back, we were visited by a “customer from hell”.

She was rude, shouted at everyone in her path, banged on the table, and threatened to call the police (which was a move we wouldn’t actually have minded, as maybe they’d have restrained her). She blamed us for everything that was going wrong in her life and that had contributed to stress to her, including her pet that fell ill.

As you may have guessed, she demanded a full refund, despite already utilising half of the services.

When dealing with difficult situations like this one, there’s always something that can be learnt. On this occasion, there were 6 lessons, here they are:

Lesson 1: Support And Stand Firm Against the Abuse of Staff

Have a line of defense predefined to handle these situations. Know who should be standing up to speak to the client in support of the staff. In our situation, the manager in charge took over and handled the situation the moment it got out of hand.

As soon as staff members know that their managers will always have their back, it builds trust and respect in the team. Conversely, they will likely feel demotivated when they know that they will be left to face the wrath whenever something goes wrong.

Lesson 2: Train Employees How To Tell If The Customer Is Trying To Solve Or Create Issues

An intense situation can easily unnerve the calmest of us, which is why staff should be trained on how to analyse the situation. It’s critical to identify if the client is positive, which means he/she wants to settle the issue and move on, or if he/she may be taking advantage of the situation.

Chances are, if the client focuses on the solution and the future, he/she is positive, and service recovery can be applied.

However, tell tale signs of the other customer are:

  • Focusing on the past
  • Repeating the same story numerous times
  • Refusing any form of feasible solution and insisting on one particular way (“my way or the highway”)
  • Starting to attribute other non related incidents to you
  • Being rude, engaging in name calling and threats

Lesson 3: Know When to Fire Your Customer.

In this instance, we provided a full refund even though we didn’t need to. There are some toxic clients, and they are the ones who will never be happy no matter what you do in the future.

If you go the extra mile, they will think that you should have done it anyway. However, when something little goes wrong, your employee will shiver in fear, knowing for sure that he/she will pounce on the mistake and demand something in return. And essentially, it’s really not worth it.

From our experience the effort to please one of this customer types results in an unpredictable outcome, which is a lot more strenuous than servicing ten other happy clients, where you know that your efforts will definitely increase their satisfaction.

Take note of tell tale signs of potentially sensitive customers, as there are usually behavioural patterns you can pick up along the way.

Lesson 4: Build Key Processes and Guidelines

Make sure that your employees understand the critical processes in such situations. For example, what are the steps when processing a refund and what are the issues to look out for.

In this case, the client demanded for cash immediately, and when it wasn’t available, she instructed the employee to use her personal bank account to make an instant transfer to her account. This was definitely not an acceptable practice.

Clear policies also help staff to know the limits to handle the negotiation with alternative proposals. Train your staff in negotiation skills and never make rash decisions on spot. Stay calm and be in charge of emotions at all times.

Lesson 5: Be Prepared for Proactive Online Reputation Management

In this online world, it evens the playing field when it comes to communication. Some of the public will tend to give the benefit to the doubt to the customer, taking the position of the underdog, rather than the company.

Many threats from disgruntled customers today come in the form of scathing online reviews on various platforms. If what they say is true, admit the fault, be sincere, act on it immediately, and definitely go over and beyond to show that you care.

However, when what they say is untrue, that is when you will need to be prepared for it. Online sparring is not the way to go. Like it or not, the review will be there to stay, unless you are able to reach an offline compromise with the client.

Collecting testimonials and building good relationships with customers across the company is essential to handle such situations. This is so as to have ready positive content to post across various channels by people other than yourself when such an incident arises.

You will possibly require a ratio of between five to ten genuine and positive reviews to one negative review, depending on your industry and the severity.

Do not even try to write your own reviews – you will not get away with it forever. Your competitors probably already know. When your customers find out, your credibility will be greatly diminished.

This is not only to protect the reputation of the company, but also that of the staff member mentioned. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, the customer may not realise that just a rant for him/her, can destroy a person’s career.

Lesson 6: Understand Contract Law

Many small business owners will find it very useful to understand the basics of contract law. What constitutes a contact, and under what circumstances will a contract be discharged.

While going the legal route should absolutely be the last resort, as it can be time and financially consuming, knowing your rights can put you in a position to be objective in assessing the situation.