In the most general terms, a ‘difficult customer’ is someone who either behaves badly or has unreasonable expectations of you or your organization. A difficult customer can be a consumer, a business client, a patient or even a coworker – an internal customer. There are a number of good books and courses on how to deal with these individuals, providing effective tips and techniques for dealing with their behavior and creating positive outcomes. Unfortunately, most don’t pay nearly enough attention to the root causes of difficult customer behavior, a subject that hits a little closer to home.

The research tells us that most negative customer behaviour is not triggered not by the event or situation, but instead by the manner in which we respond to it. That’s right – most ‘difficult customer’ situations are actually created by us. As difficult as this might be to accept, it makes sense. Think about the last time you, as a customer, had an unpleasant experience. What was it that really got you upset? Chances are it wasn’t the error on the phone bill, for example, that pushed your buttons, it was when the person you were speaking with appeared not to care, or showed a reluctance to try and fix the situation.

What this suggests is that, while negative situations are inevitable in any business, conflict with customers doesn’t have to be. The next time you have an unpleasant encounter with a customer; take a long, hard look at yourself, and what you may have done to escalate the situation. Only with this kind of honest introspection will you reduce the amount of conflict you have to deal with.

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