angry woman.jpgIf you’ve been in a customer service role for longer than a month, you have no doubt experienced a “Customer From Hell.” You know – the ones that can truly spoil your whole day. There are a lot of popular but ineffective strategies for dealing with these people, and most of these strategies come from some basic misunderstandings as to what makes them tick. Here are three of the most common myths about Customers from Hell:

Myth #1: The Customer Is The Problem

A 1990 study of negative customer experiences identified that customer dissatisfaction is created far more frequently by an employee’s response to a situation that from the situation itself. A recent study conducted by The Belding Group (to be released this Fall), confirmed this, showing that most customer dissatisfaction was a result of an employee not taking ownership of a situation. While there are indeed truly unreasonable customers out there, the vast majority are people who simply feel like you just don’t care.

Myth #2: The Customer Has Unreasonable Expectations

While customers do sometimes have unreasonable expectations, this is most often a result of us failing to manage their expectations in the first place. Imagine a customer who thinks it only takes a month to build a new home, and the builder doesn’t advise them that it could actually take 6-8 months. Is it really the customer’s fault when he (she) gets upset after a month has passed and the house isn’t ready?

Myth #3: The Customer Wants Compensation When A Problem Arises

When a customer complains about something that has gone wrong, many organizations have the default response of offering some kind of compensation. Airlines are notorious for this. “Oh, we oversold your seat, so you couldn’t take your flight? Here’s a $200 coupon for your troubles.” This is little consolation for someone who is going to miss their best friend’s wedding. While compensation might be an important component in a service failure, customers are far more interested in a heartfelt apology, an acknowledgement of how serious an issue this was for them, and a concerted effort to try and correct things.

Dealing with difficult customers requires both empathy and skill. In today’s social-media world, it is also a critical competency. The Belding Group research shows that over 65% of positive word-of-mouth for a company comes from situations where an employee has successfully recovered from a service failure. That’s a pretty good argument for approaching a difficult customer as an opportunity instead of a problem.

“It’s not a coincidence that some people get very few ‘Customers from Hell,’ while others seem to get more than their share” – Winning With The Customer From Hell – a Survival Guide


The Belding Group helps companies stand out by providing World-Class customer service training and customer experience consulting and measurement

One Response

  1. I received this little tidbit on how to deal with customers from my manager because I myself work in Customer Service for a company (we’re big, trust me). Being on the front lines of the face of the company, I thought this read would be a little more helpful rather than just the typical “Well, try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…” mantra that has been beaten more times than that sad dead horse has. It was really the 2nd little bit about unreasonable expectations that got to me. The example of a house is not really a good one but that’s just me. What I think it really is firstly: the example should be called “Customer was not informed by employee therefore customer is mad.” But unreasonable expectations are NOT the fault of the company. If a customer has expectations something should be done at a certain time, that is because the customer is going off some sort of judgement they have conceived with information they have been given. Even if the information is a fake as tits on a stripper, they will take it to heart and sell it like autism-causing vaccines. If a customer has done the proper research and understood the process of whatever it is they are engaging, then they take that new information and learn to deal with it (or throw a temper tantrum where guys like me get to make the big bucks taking it like a couple prison inmates who dropped the soap). But I cannot be held for what a customer believes. If a person thinks a house can be built in a month, and it can’t be, that’s not the fault of the company. The customer came to this all on their own and when put in the “real world” or when face to face with the reasoning behind a reasonable expectation, then there lies the conflict. Not because a company has their own agenda, but because a customer has brought their agenda to the wrong place and in the wrong manner. So, yeah, a customer has unreasonable expectations and that’s their own fault. Asking someone to try and see where they are coming from is almost rude to the employee. Why bother telling a customer anything if they bring their own ideas? Or if you do tell a customer how long a process takes and they don’t agree with it, then what? Talk them down? Like we do on everything?
    As far as the other two things go, still not good argumentation. People suck. Not all, but some do. And if a customer is calling in to complain, get an update on a case, report a problem, they usually don’t go in on the line thinking: “Gee, I hope the representative on the line is doing okay.” So no, people don’t want representatives to own up to a situation. They don’t want sorry. I can count more times than not (as I’m sure most others can) hearing something along the lines of “Sorry doesn’t fix my problem,” or “I don’t care that you’re sorry.” It’s bull. It’s only when people get asked in a survey if they’re assholes or not do they get to look back with faded vision and say “I’m a good person. I just want the apology.”
    And compensation? Forget it. Life happens. You CANNOT walk into thinking nothing will happen. The bravest and most successful people will look at a shitty situation and go “Fuck it, let’s just move on.” When Mommy and Daddy went out for drinks with the Vanderwhoevers, leaving you with the nanny or local teenage babysitter, coming home smelling like champagne and lies about how much they loved each others lives, the children grew up spoiled. They could throw tantrums and yell because then Mommy and Daddy would buy them things to silence their Pride and Joy up whereas the babysitter knew to just drown them out and let them realize you have to change your attitude to become a decent part of this grown up society. People who want to be compensated literally want to make someone feel so bad that it gets to the point where a sacrifice must be made. So all of this “in their shoes” ideals only help if the person isn’t already an asshole on the other line. And the only way you get to find out is that moment where you get to repeat yourself for the thousandth time with “Thank you for calling (who cares), this is (someone they won’t remember), how can I help you?”
    So good luck. The phone is ringing and it looks like there’s 100 more waiting to get to you as well. But don’t think they’re ALL awful. That’d be an unreasonable expectation, right?

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