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Dealing With Difficult Customers: Three Phases To Avoid Conflict

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It happens to all of us. Despite your best intentions, things go wrong, and customers will rush to tell you about it in no uncertain terms. Increasingly, customers also turn to business review sites to tell the entire world what they think.

But if you learn how to handle these customer conflicts effectively, you can turn even the most dissatisfied customer into a long-term partner. If somebody is being negative now, it’s an excellent opportunity to show how much your business cares.

Read on to get some practical tips on handling customer conflict and dealing with customer complaints.

Customer Conflict Is Not Personal Conflict

If there is a golden rule of dealing with and resolving customer conflict, it’s remembering that none of this is personal. Many sole traders and self-employed entrepreneurs have difficulty separating themselves from their businesses – after all, in a legal sense, there is no distinction.

But remember that you are merely a representative of your small organisation, and when your customers are not happy, they are only unhappy with your business.

Don’t think of yourself as the cause of the problem, but as the provider of the solution.

The Three Phases Of Handling Customer Conflict

Although every customer is an individual and the circumstances of every conflict are different, the process of resolving these issues tends to fit a pattern. By understanding this pattern and sticking to it, you have a useful roadmap for helping your customers to solve their problems, fast.

1. Empathise

It’s not always your fault, and you should always be careful of using the word ‘sorry’ needlessly. However, take a step back and consider how your customer feels.

Maybe a delivery has not been made. Perhaps they have been overcharged, or the products and services you’ve supplied have not been up to scratch. How would that make you feel?

Before you do anything else, empathise with your customer. Demonstrate that you understand the nature of the problem, and the consequences it has had.

2. Be Practical

Once you have shown that you care about your customer and understand the problem, it’s time to suggest a solution. There’s little point explaining why the issue occurred, or trying to apportion blame. Instead, concentrate on resolution.

This should always come in the form of practical information. What exactly are you going to do, and when?

Whether your resolution comes in the form of a refund, replacement products/services or simply a change of attitude, make sure that your customer knows precisely what will happen as a result of their concerns.

3. Correct The Problem

The final phase of resolving conflict does not always involve your customer. It’s taking the time to fix the problem so that it doesn’t happen again.

It’s surprising to read about companies that receive dozens of complaints about the same things, and yet do nothing to solve the problem long term. It’s a sure-fire way to lose business and spend needless time handling new conflicts.

Whatever problem led to this conflict, what can you do to eliminate it?

If you’re interested in a more detailed guide to the process of resolving conflict, check out this article from Examiner – Seven Steps to Handling Conflict in Business.

Handling Conflict Publicly

Increasingly, customer conflict happens in public. The internet is full of business directories and review sites like, BusinessReviewsUK and, where customers go to share what they like – and dislike – about your company.

At first, public complaints and negative reviews can feel unfair. They could, after all, have a long-term effect on your business. But stop looking at these reviews as blemishes on your company – they are opportunities to show your excellent customer service in action.

If you treat your customers with respect, effectively resolve issues and make customers feel more positive, this will all be visible to potential leads.

For some great advice on handling negative online reviews, check out this article from the Huffington Post.

What’s your experience of handling  difficult customers? Share your tips in the comment box below. Whether you agree or disagree show me you’re ALIVE! … and comment below. If you found the information, useful click the like button. Thanks.

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