4 Psychology-Backed Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Customers Katie Culp It’s happened to the best of us: dealing with a difficult customer. And as your business grows the likelihood of having to interact with frustrated, disgruntled or high-maintenance individuals also goes up. So, what’s the best approach? Well, it can be helpful to understand that the emotions your customers are expressing may actually be tied to certain psychological stimuli. As such, learning how to effectively read each situation and apply the following psychological tips can help you manage even the most challenging customer and improve the chances of retaining their business. Have a Beginner’s Mind With the beginner’s mind approach, you assess every situation as if you were a “beginner.” This enables you to enter conversations without any bias or prejudgment. It also prevents you from falling into the “should” mindset, which can make you defensive and impact the productivity of the interaction. In other words, you’ll eliminate thoughts about what you feel the customer should have known or done. So, rather than relying on your knowledge, experience or perceived expertise, approach each conversation as if you’re starting fresh. Don’t prejudge the frustration your customer is expressing. Forget about what they could or should have done. Instead, approach each engagement as a new puzzle that needs to be solved. Employ Reflective Listening Ever have someone tell you they “understand,” and it only made you feel even angrier? That’s because blanket statements like this don’t actually accomplish anything. Even if you do feel as though you understand where your customer is coming from, practicing the art of reflective listening is more effective in diffusing the situation. Reflective listening involves listening and then reflecting the feelings and thoughts you’ve heard back to the customer. For example: Customer: “I’m frustrated because you don’t have the product I need in stock and I’m on a tight schedule.” Reflective Listening Response: “What I’m hearing is that you’re in a crunch for time and really need a product that we were unable to supply to you.” This makes the customer feel heard and valued. From there, you should attempt to resolve the issue accordingly. In this scenario, you might offer to have the product rushed in from another location. Eliminate Fear Fear over a possible negative outcome is something that drives the way we react to many situations, including interactions with difficult people. When a customer is being difficult, it’s natural to be afraid to challenge them out of fear of ruining the relationship. It’s also common to feel fear over whether or not we are capable of correcting the problem. Shift your mindset so that you recognize that an immediate solution isn’t required. At first, it should be about listening and understanding. Then the appropriate next steps can be determined. So, instead of simply apologizing and offering a less-than-ideal immediate fix, take back control by saying something like: “It’s unfortunate that this happened. I’m aware of the situation and how it has affected you. I appreciate your patience as I work to resolve it.” Always stay calm Like it or not, conflict is simply a part of doing business. It’s how you react to that conflict that will make or break your customer relationships. Remember the mantra: “The customer is always right,” and no matter how tempting it is to retaliate against a negative interaction, always take the high road. Your reputation extends far beyond a single engagement with one customer, so always keep that top of mind. And since people tend to mirror and respond in kind with certain emotions, remaining calm, friendly and understanding may be just the thing to diffuse the situation. There’s no magic formula for appeasing difficult customers and resolving all issues in a productive way, but the psychology-backed tips listed above can improve the chances of a positive outcome.