Few things will undermine your positive company culture efforts – and bring a team member’s morale down faster – than not knowing how to handle a difficult customer.  Empower your team in how to handle difficult customers by giving them these five pointers: 

  1. Clarify customer expectations and expectations of customers from the very beginning of the relationship. What will make this working relationship successful?  What are their expectations of you and your company?  What do they need and want?  What are they committed to creating for themselves out of this relationship with your organization?  What are your expectations of them?  What can you each be counted on for?  Do not step over any misalignments.  Speak to these head on.  If this wasn’t done at the beginning of the relationship, then create this clarity now through a short conversation.
  2. Always come from your commitment as outlined in your goose-bump worthy mission.*
  3. If your customer has a concern, don’t get defensive. Instead, listen like there’s no one else in the world and have your customer really feel heard. Have compassion and empathy.  Get their world.  Then recreate their communication by sharing what you heard and the emotions and concerns behind it.  Ask them, is there anything else?  Until they have nothing else to add.  Then ask, going forward what would make the difference?
  4. If you have a concern with your customer, say something, don’t wait – and be kind, candid and constructive in your communication. Come from a place of care, concern and curiosity – rather than judgements or assumptions.  Share your commitment.  Reiterate their commitment.  Let the customer know that not doing or doing X is not workable for meeting the commitments and expectations of the relationship.  Share your experience and the impact and consequences on the work – and if behaviors are repeated, the impact on the working relationship.   Here’s a great way to start the conversation,“Because we here at X organization pride ourselves on:
    • being customer-centric
    • being committed to [insert goose-bump worthy mission]
    • being your trusted advisor
    • providing great service
    • completing work in a responsive manner to ensure reliable and consistent services
    • proactively helping you improve your business
    •  And I know you’re committed to X, I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t speak to a concern I have.”
  5. Remember, you train your customers how they treat you. Be clear about your deal-breakers and your exceptions.  Never allow abusive customer behavior.  Transition out customers who repeatedly undermine agreements.  This should come as no surprise to your customer – especially if you’ve adhered to number four.

*A goose-bump worthy mission is a cornerstone of your company’s culture.  Make sure you have one.  If you don’t, work through the simple, yet profound Action Jackson exercise in Chapter 3: Fortify Your Foundation of Culture Works.

Here’s to creating a more positive culture for your team!