Deal With The Worst Customer Yourself

Today’s leadership lesson is about dealing with those really difficult people in the world.

Sometimes they are your customers, sometimes they are your fellow employees, sometimes they are your relatives, and sometimes they are you.

First, let’s all remember that we are all difficult from time to time ourselves when we have a point of view on something, or we are disappointed with something in our lives.  I am sure that every one of YOU can remember being difficult about something in your life and taking it out on whoever was closest to you.

You were not really upset with the person you were dealing with.  You were upset because your expectation had not been met or that you were disappointed in something that happened.  Maybe it even was your fault for some reason, like not listening . . . or writing down the wrong time or date . . . or any other kind of misunderstanding that can happen.

When your customers are upset with you, take the time to listen to the issue and try to figure out what they are really upset about . . . and what it might take to make them happy again, which should be  your goal.  You don’t want your customers to be unhappy with you or your organization. 

Follow the LAST model which stands for Listen, Apologize, Solve, Thank.  If the situation warrants it, ask, “What can I do for you?” to figure out what the real issue is.  Learn not to say “NO” right away.  Keep talking with the customer and offer alternatives like:

  • I can get you a pass to ride one of your favorite attractions, but I cannot comp your stay because your daughter did not see Mickey Mouse today.  I can also work on getting you in the front of the line tomorrow to see Mickey, but I really cannot comp your stay.  Would you like that?”
  • I can arrange to get you into a VIP-seating area to watch IllumiNations, but I am very sorry that I cannot pick up your airfare for four because your son did not get into Blizzard Beach until 2 p.m.  I am sorry that we were closed for three hours because we were full.  I will guarantee that you get in tomorrow, and I will arrange it myself.

Some customers will ask for unreasonable things. Remember that it may not seem unreasonable to them, or maybe it is their style to ask for as much as they can.  Maybe they just finished taking a negotiation course, and they want to try it out on you.  What they ask for and what they get are two different things.  Don’t believe that what they ask for is their bottom line.  It is a starting point only with many people.

You should use your good judgement and give them what you think is appropriate and is within your level of authority.  Customers who raise their voices or threaten you with a call to your boss or anyone else should not persuade you to give them anymore than you would have in the first place.  Go by the facts as much as possible and not the behavior.

If what they want is beyond your authority, then get the next level of supervision and let them decide.  Realize that sometimes your supervisor will override your decision.  Don’t take it personally.  Each case is different, and the goal is to have your customers happy if possible.  Hopefully your leader will explain why he or she overrode your decision since we don’t want people to feel that the carpet was pulled out from underneath their feet.

The word “NO” is the last resort at our resort and should be used only when we have tried all other alternatives.   It should take a while to get to the “NO” word.  We all dislike that word . . . I do anyway.

Just make your decision based on the facts; and when the facts are unclear and it makes sense, go in favor of the customer.

One thing you need to know is that some unknown percentage of the population of the world is born difficult, and they are never happy; and you will run into them from time to time.

With these people, we still need to be professional and treat them as a valued customer. Work hard at not getting defensive or rude with any customer.  This is a no-win situation.

Straightening out customers and proving them wrong is a no-win as well; so you have to be really cool during these encounters.  Calmness and professionalism always win out in the long run.  Learn to use phrases like, “I know how you feel.  I am sorry to hear that.  What do you want me to do for you?”   Remember, they are not mad at you.  They don’t even know you.  They are angry because of some issue, whether they are being reasonable or not.  Show empathy and concern.

The bottom line is that we have to deal with difficult people, and sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong.  Leadership has to jump into these situations.  Leadership has to make sure that the front-line employees know clearly their level of authority and when to get their leader involved.

We had a situation at Disney when I was there  that was handled by all levels; and it eventually went to my boss and his boss, and eventually to me.  I supported what the front- line Cast Member and front-line leader had decided in the first place.  The Guest was being unreasonable; and we, in a nice way, explained to him that we had already gone out of our way to take care of his issues . . . and we could not compensate him any further.  Sometimes a customer  needs to hear from the top person that it is over. We turned him down in a very kind way.

Other times, I find it best to opt in favor of our customer.  Handling difficult customers is an art . . . and all you can do is listen, investigate the issue, try some alternatives, or give them what they want and move on.  But in the end, just do your best and be professional.  Your decision will be the right one for that moment.

If customers are not happy with your decision, then make sure you get them in touch with the next level of leadership.

  • Don’t tell the customer to write or call your boss.
  • Tell them that you will follow through, and get your boss to contact them today, if it is not too late, or in the morning if the situation can wait until morning.
  • Then contact the next level of supervision, and make sure that they call the customer right away.
  • It is best to solve their problem very quickly before it gets out of hand. 
  • So please stop telling customers to write to your company.  This is a cop out and only makes them madder.

Instead of writing to an unhappy customer,c all them. Your customers will be WOWED that someone called them, and that they were able to have a dialogue about the situation.  Most of these complaints will be resolved, and the customers will be happy, whether you give them something or not. Quickly calling shows you care.

Remember that great leaders demonstrate a passionate professional commitment to their Job.   One of the tactics is to Deal Personally With the Most Difficult Customer in the WorldYOU, as a professional, should want to hear from these customers so you have the chance to learn and, hopefully, to turn them around . . . and even turn them into a loyal customer.  Handling a tough complaint properly,  more often than not, does just that.

We are all wired differently; and we all react to stress in different ways.  So don’t get upset with your customers no matter how upset they are with you  because . . . YOU are them sometimes.   . . .Lee

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