Calming "Customonsters" and Other High-Maintenance Customers

by Kate Zabriskie - Date: 2007-01-17 - Word Count: 886 Share This!

Calming "Customonsters" and Other High-Maintenance Customers Who Want What They Want When They Want It It's been over twenty years since Madonna first sang about being a "material girl in a material world," and since that time, girls, boys, women, and men throughout the nation have become more demanding of businesses and what they expect in terms of service. One might argue that this age of the high-maintenance customer is simply due to businesses' inability to get qualified help, and in some cases this is true. However, the facts are that product and service customization, competition, and "the customer is always right" have helped create more than a few high-maintenance "customonsters" that over time may be more work than they are worth to your business.

To endure demanding customers and give your employees the tools they need to successfully manage that audience, there are several actions you should take when planning your service strategy and tactics.

-First, you must determine what you will and won't do to satisfy customers. If you will take back tires even though you are an exclusive clothing store, fine. If you will only do it for your "platinum" customers, fine also. The point is, you must have rules in place. Otherwise, you are headed for a path of inconsistency and dissatisfaction. To kick off your planning, answer the following questions:

-Are there some customers we would rather not have? If so, who are they?

-How much abuse do I expect to take or expect my employees to take from difficult customers? Am I willing to be yelled at? Called stupid, incompetent, etc.?

-What special accommodations will I make to satisfy the demanding when they are justified in complaining and when they aren't?

-Second, you must train your employees on the rules you have put in place. Be prepared to visit and revisit this step several times. Turnover and other circumstances will affect your need for training. Furthermore, effectively dealing with customonsters is not always an intuitive process. One training session is usually not enough. Practice, practice, and more practice make for better service. Your training should include most if not all of the following information:

-Teach your employees to explain your processes to your customers to align their expectations with what you can realistically deliver. "Mrs. Smith, I understand that you want this movie today. The release date is not for another week. We get the movies the morning they are released. When we get it, I will call you immediately and let you know that it's in. In the interim, if I find that someone else is selling it earlier, I will call and let you know that too." Remember to remind employees to stay calm and not to yell, no matter how angry the other person gets.

-Keep the focus on the problem, not the person. If the customer is unhappy that you don't have a lipstick in stock, keep the conversation about what lipsticks you do have, what you can substitute, etc.

Tell your employees not let the customer make this personal by answering rhetorical questions such as, "Do you have any idea how this is going to make me look when I don't show up with the right color?" If your employees take the bait, you can't win. "Miss Jackson, a lipstick just isn't that big a deal. I am sure the bride will be happy with whatever you get for her." Don't make presumptions about what the bride will be happy with. This is a losing situation for sure.

A better statement might be, "Miss Jackson, although it's not perfect, I can come close to what you are looking for. I have samples of Pink Shimmer and Ripe Rose that I can give you to try. In the meantime, I'll check our inventory again and see if somehow the color you want is available from one of our sister stores.

-Give employees a Plan B. If the customer is not happy with an employee's efforts, have someone else (you, for instance) that the employee can direct the customer toward. If you don't do this and employees don't know what to do, all bets are off as to what you might get. Do yourself a favor and don't leave Plan B up to chance.

3. Recognize and reward employees who handle difficult and demanding customers well. It's impossible to expect employees to make the right decision one hundred percent of the time. However, if they know you are watching and that you treat every mistake as a learning opportunity, you are more likely to get the best out of your staff.

To that end, never embarrass your employees in front of customers, never yell at them in front of customers, and don't immediately assume that the customer is giving you the full picture. Customonsters feed on negativity. The last thing you want to do is reinforce bad behavior by communicating through your actions that abuse is okay even if you have decided that you will take a fair amount from the customers yourself.

4. If all else fails, you may consider freeing your customonsters by suggesting other businesses that they might find more suitable. But remember, most of the time you should be able to satisfy your customers--even the material boys and girls--if you have solid processes in place, act professionally, and follow up on any promises you make.

Customer Service Training

Related Tags: customer service training, customer service course, customer service class, difficult customers

Founder, Kate Zabriskie and her team of trainers at Business Training Works, Inc. work with the Fortune 500, government, and small businesses to improve business results. Choose from dozens of onsite training courses: communication, customer service, business etiquette, business writing, cross-cultural communication, presentation skills, time management, stress management, train the trainer, supervision skills, and more. Visit

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