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Dealing with Difficult Customers

Top 6 Tips for Handling Unreasonable Requests

Customers – Some times ya love ‘em. Sometimes ya want to kill em’. We’ve all dealt with difficult customers before. I’m not just talking about the complainer or the “problem child.” I’m talking about the one who keeps making unreasonable requests of you and your company, or has unrealistic expectations about what you should be doing for them. And no matter what you do for them, they don’t seem to be happy about it. How do you deal with these difficult customers? Here are six tips for handling these difficult customers and their unreasonable requests. They may not work all the time, but I know they will help you most of the time, and at least help you keep your sanity while not harming your business.

 1.      Define your box. If you can define exactly what it is your company does, then draw a line around it, and that is the “box” in which you work. Some companies try to be everything to everyone, which can cause them to de-focus from their business plan. This can cause a dangerous situation for you since you can easily go beyond your bounds, abilities and/or resources by doing things that are not your core strength or priority. You can lose more time and revenue by doing work outside your bounds than the deal is actually worth. On the other hand, if you find that the same request keeps coming up, and after doing more research, you find that it makes sense to expand your box or sphere of offerings, then you could pick up this skill and appropriate services and add them to your repertoire. But only as a strategic part of your business plan, not as a reaction to a client’s demands.

 2.      Educate them. You need to educate your customers so they know exactly what it is you do as well as what it is you don’t do. In other words, make sure you explain your box to them. It’s not always the customer’s fault when they keep pressing you to do something outside your box. It’s possible that they just don’t know. Once you define your box (it should be defined in your marketing material, your social media presence, your tag line, your elevator pitch and your presentations to your customers), your box becomes your persona – the definition of you and your business. When you have this clearly defined, everything you do should be centered on that definition of your business. Not only what you do for your customers, but also what affiliations and partnerships you develop, what products and services you offer, and what type of customers you market to and work with.

 3.      Set expectations. When you begin working with a customer, you must set their expectations right from the beginning. This means that everyone needs to understand not only what will and won’t be done, but also the results that will be achieved. If you don’t do this, what often happens is the customer expects you to do certain tasks with specific results, which may not be the same as what you expect to do. The result of this is that they start asking for, what seems to be, unreasonable and unrealistic expectations about what you should do for them. And this is where the trouble begins. Get full disclosure and agreement in the beginning of the relationship and/or project and document it in a statement of work (SOW), along with expectations and results, for all parties to review, agree on and approve. Use this document as a guideline to stay on track.

 4.      Redefine their needs. If your customer continues to persist and insist that you should help them with their unique requirements or with something you don’t do, explain to them that this is not what you do and they either have to redefine their needs or go somewhere else. Yes I know, this is much easier said than done. However, the alternatives are even more difficult because it could involve you taking on more than you can handle, or are prepared to do, hence costing you more in the long run. Customers should be generating profit for you, not just revenue. If they generate revenue but are costing you a fortune, it’s time to stop throwing good money after bad. Be firm, be strong and have courage when it comes to keeping customers who run amuck of your direction and focus. Having the documentation described in the previous tip will help you with this and with redefining their needs.

 5.      Prioritize. Your time is too valuable and you should focus on those customers who fit in your box and business model. Sometimes difficult customers arise out of a bad fit to begin with. In other words, if you were to sell your services to a market or industry that you don’t usually deal with and, more importantly, are not equipped to handle, you may be asking for trouble. Some companies, in a desperate attempt to garner new business, will grab at any sale they can. The result is that they get bad business – business that is costing them more than they are earning in profits. Therefore, it’s important to define and prioritize your best customers and markets, and use these profiles to find similar customers to deal with since you know you can satisfy their needs most efficiently and profitably.

 6.      Fire them. When all else fails, be prepared to fire your customers and walk away. Like a bad marriage, there’s no sense in dragging on the inevitable. If they are costing you more than you are making, if they refuse to work within your guidelines or if they continue to make demands that you just can’t or don’t want to do (for whatever reasons), then tell them nicely that it’s best that you stop working together since you do not appear to be the sort of firm they are looking for and that you are not prepared to continue doing the sort of work they are asking you to do. In the long run, this is a much wiser approach than going down with a sinking ship. Cut your losses and move on.

As I said earlier, these tips may not all work all the time, but doing none of them will almost always guarantee failure with difficult customers. Be firm and strong and know what your strengths and limitations are. Then communicate clearly, and early, with your customers to ensure a more successful relationship.

Good luck and good selling!

About the author:
Russ Lombardo, President & Founder of PEAK Sales Consulting, is a nationally recognized Sales and CRM consultant, speaker, trainer, and author. Russ works with sales organizations and management who want to increase their sales results by acquiring new customers and retaining existing ones. As a speaker, Russ presents sales training seminars and customer retention workshops as well as keynote and conference speeches to dozens of audiences every year. He is the author of five books on Sales and CRM.


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