Canada's business magazine for traditional natural health retailers

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Difficult customers

Difficult customers


In times of conflict, it’s incredibly important to keep a bright, smiley face.

Nobody wants them, but we all have them – customers who are on a mission to bring a stormy cloud into your day, regardless of whether or not you are personally responsible for their bad mood.


  In times of conflict, it’s incredibly important to keep a bright, smiley face.

Nobody wants them, but we all have them – customers who are on a mission to bring a stormy cloud into your day, regardless of whether or not you are personally responsible for their bad mood.

What do you do to effectively deal with these people? How do you turn a negative interaction into a positive one? Well, there’s no fail-proof answer, but there are a few tactics you can attempt.

   It’s a peaceful, quiet day, and the sun is shining. You rolled out of bed relaxed and refreshed, ready to embrace the day. If you’re like me, you sipped your morning cappuccino, you had your greens smoothie, you walked the dog and did some tidying around the house. Life is good. Now it’s time to head to work. You get to your store, it’s quiet, it’s dark. You turn the computer and lights on, you boil the kettle for some tea. 10 am rolls around and it’s time to open the doors. You have them open one third of the way and your dreams of a happy morning come halting to an end. Enter the grumpy, irritated, rushed, impatient, and/or generally unhappy customer. This could be someone you regularly deal with, or just a brand new person that graced you with their presence for the day. Either way, you’re not in for a picnic.

   This customer is angry. Maybe they were mistakenly overcharged for an item that they purchased the day before. This customer is impatient. They are in a rush and want you to attend to their needs, over and above anything else you may be needing to do in that moment. This customer is frustrated. They have been stewing all night and regardless of who they dealt with the day before, they are going to take out their frustration on you. Perhaps this customer is a generally miserable human being. They’re miserable and want everyone else they come into contact with to be miserable, too. Lucky you.

   Well, what do you do now? You have this upset person in front of you, and your only option is to deal with them. It’s important that you make sure you fully understand the situation.

   Before you refund any money or offer anything, make sure you’re certain of the issue. You may want to ask some questions, although keep it to as few as necessary.  

   Once you figure out exactly what went wrong, a good thing to do is apologize. Tell the customer you’re sorry that they’re upset, or sorry that they had a bad experience and assure them that you will gladly remedy the situation. Exchange their item, or refund the difference of money that they were over charged. Thank them for coming back. Apologize again for good measure. You should make this process as quick as possible. If there are other customers coming in the store, you don’t want them overhearing a disgruntled customer.

   What if a colleague of yours is at fault? Assure the customer that you will bring it to your colleague’s attention. Resist any urge to criticize your co-worker. While the customer may like it, it doesn’t reflect well on you or your workplace if the staff doesn’t support each other and work as a team. Smile and wish them a happy day.


Making it right with the customer

   Over and done with, right? Hopefully yes, but not always. What if your customer is not satisfied with a simple reversal of the wrong doing? They not only want the situation remedied, but they also want some compensation. Now what? Well, it likely depends on the severity of the offence. Every now and then, something pretty random happens. We once had a clerk charge a customer $1,800 on their visa instead of $180. An extreme occurrence like that is very rare but, it does happen. For a large blunder like that, it may be appropriate to offer the customer a token of apology. This could be a monetary credit on their store account, or a discount coupon or even a free item if you have such things available. It might be a good practice to have some sort of procedure predetermined for events such as these. If the customer still doesn’t seem satisfied, consider simply asking them what it is they would like from you. You may be surprised at the answer you get, and it may be a lot easier to make them happy than you anticipated.

   Now the customer is hopefully feeling more satisfied, and less frustrated. You have successfully diffused the situation. Why not take it to the next level and make another sale? This may be wishful thinking, but perhaps the customer is now so calm that you can have a chat with them and figure out if there’s anything else they may need. A good way of wording this would be “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” or “Is there anything else I can do for you?”. They are already in the store, after all – may as well maximize their potential as a customer.

   In times of conflict, it’s incredibly important to keep a bright, smiley face. While it’s ok to say no to extreme demands, it’s important to do the most you can to satisfy the needs of your customer. In the retail environment, we must put the customer first. This is an increasingly competitive market, and it’s our ability to offer personalized and extra service which differentiates us as health store retailers from the mass market.

   Now, what if all your patience, kindness, apologies and bending over backwards doesn’t do a thing to appease this irrational customer? What if, as I mentioned earlier, they are just a miserable person and they intend to ruin your day regardless? Well, my advice is, don’t let them. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the last 15 years in our store is don’t take things personally. I’m not saying that nothing ever gets to me, because it certainly does.  However, for the most part, I’ve learned to shrug things off and understand that it truly is their issue, not mine. Something to keep in mind is that we have no idea what this person is dealing with in their own life. While taking out their problems on you isn’t a solution, maybe they have not found another way of coping. We are, after all, all fighting our own battles.

   I’m a firm believer that you get back what you give, so therefore, I will keep my smile plastered on my face and keep doing my best everyday. Truly difficult customers are not that common, and dealing with them will only make you a better person. Approach the situation with gratitude, as you’ve been given an opportunity for growth, that will benefit you and your store in the long run.  •


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