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7 difficult customer situations - examples and answers

Most training programs prepare employees for difficult service situations - angry customers, customers requesting special treatment, etc. But what about the really problematic situations?

The scenarios are as varied as the people on the other end of the line. How should you react when a customer crosses the line to racism, sexism or open aggression? Or what if the customer is actually right and your policies are flawed?

There are no simple answers to the most difficult customer situations - that creates stress and uncertainty. An emergency plan for these very situations makes you more confident and credible. Here are the 7 trickiest customer service scenarios and how to prepare for them.

When a customer makes racist statements

Diversity is a great thing for every company. Different opinions and cultural backgrounds support the learning effects. But welcoming diversity also means dealing with the less enlightened among us - the tolerance paradox.

Racism is a global problem. Because of this, it deserves more differentiation than this map can show.

Depending on where you work, you will face more or less racism. Racism can be practiced openly, but as Dennis Hong showed, it can also hide behind ambiguous statements - sometimes even behind a code.

Racism ranges from ambiguous remarks to blatantly racist statements. It's best to ignore an ambiguous remark because you don't want to risk falsely attributing something to the customer.

But when it's more obvious, act. Similar to sexism - which we will discuss below - the goal in customer service cannot be to educate the other side. Also, don't put them to shame - you lose a customer and strengthen the position of a stubborn person. Rather, your goal is to stop the negative behavior in its beginnings so that the execution of the service can be carried out amicably with the dignity of both parties.

Everyday racism needs to be fought by ordinary people.

Adele Horin, Sydney Morning Herald

I agree with Fastcoexist's Rich Mintz who says companies shouldn't be afraid to take a stand. Of course, an opinion also means providing leeway for arguments at the same time. However, you should never succumb to racism, sexism, homophobia or any other form of discrimination.

As Jens Korff wrote in a great article about dealing with racism, one should stay calm and react to the topic, not the person. It is crucial not to lower yourself to their level. Here are the different forms of racism you may encounter.

Biased mindsets .
They look like you could easily calculate the price for me !”
“Positive” discriminatory statements like these, which are often directed at Asians, can also be extremely unpleasant. For now, ignore the statement. If this continues, ask the customer what they mean and help them see that they are racist. If he persists, point out that his view is prejudice.

Joking racist .
I can never tell you apart ”, “ Don't eat my dog ”, “ Ni hao !”
If the remark is straightforward, act foolish and ask how exactly the sentence was meant. This is to indicate that you disapprove of the utterance without triggering a defensive reaction. In extreme cases, let the customer know that you would be happy to help, but only on the basis of mutual respect.
If the customer does not change their tone of voice, let them know that you can only help them if they behave differently. If not, end the conversation and report the incident to your manager.

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Aggressive racist .
I would like advice from someone who is white, please .”
You should never bow to racism or any other form of discrimination, so never comply with racist demands.
Point out to the customer that their choice of words is offensive and that you will not accept them, regardless of who it is addressed to. You will help him if you are treated with the necessary respect. Whenever possible, refer to general company guidelines on this matter. This makes it clear that the customer is acting against social norms and not just against your personal attitudes. If the problem persists, end the call and report it to your manager.

When a customer makes sexist statements

Sexism overlaps with racism in many ways. Both are forms of discrimination based on group membership.

In Western cultures in particular, racism is sharply and legally condemned. Sexism, however, is often dismissed as a form of conservatism and chivalry, labeled as casual room talk, or completely ignored, as in Uber's scandal.

In customer service, sexism begins with a violation of professional distance, such as a supposedly friendly " baby ”Or a kiss emoji. But it can quickly slip to the level of more obvious, condescending remarks. In the extreme, a customer can ask an agent to refer them to a male colleague whose name they found on your website.

The timid social disapproval of sexism has another negative effect: It makes it more difficult to fight sexism, as it often leads to evasive reactions such as " You're exaggerating "Or" I'm just trying to be nice ”Causes. Check out Jennifer Dziura's approach to counter these and other typical phrases.

Here are the different types of sexism you may encounter in service.

Biased mindset .
Maybe I should discuss this with one of your male colleagues ?”
Ignore a single remark if it is worded more ambiguously than the above. A pattern of such utterances should definitely inspire you to act. Question the meaning of the utterance (s) to clarify the sexist prejudice.

Joking sexist .
That didn't fix my problem, but your profile picture makes up for it .”, “ I know this stuff is complicated, honey !”
Respond to unprofessional niceties and objectivities with a cool professionalism. It shows that you disapprove of the utterance without provoking a defense reaction. It also helps here to “act clueless” and to question the meaning behind the words.
You can also respond to a “joke” by playfully realizing that the comment is below your level: Try “ You just didn't say that "Or" Welcome back to 8th grade ”Then take up the actual topic of conversation straight away.

Aggressive sexist .
Let a man do that .”
Just like with racism - never tolerate it. Only continue service if there is due respect. Let the customer know that you would like to try to help them, but that you will not accept sexist remarks, regardless of whether they are directed at you or others. Warn the person you are talking to that if that doesn't stop you will end the conversation. Also, refer to your company policies to show the person that this is not about your personal opinion. If necessary, end the call.

In most racist and sexist situations, a subtle note of your disapproval is enough for the customer to behave appropriately. As soon as this point occurs, do not hold it up against the customer, but treat them in the usual friendly manner.

When a customer is flirting with you

It happens, it really does. For no apparent reason, customers want to meet with you in person. First they talk about the business, then the subject is changed with an innocent question, like, " So where is your office now? ? ”. If you share the information, there will inevitably be a nonchalant " Oh, I happen to be going there next weekend. Would you like to have a coffee? ?”

Most flirting customers are trolls who want to test their market value or fool around. I'll get back to the trolls later. But if the person isn't an outright joker, that's a real problem. Because a serious charmer can also be a serious customer.

As recent research has shown, whether the situation becomes uncomfortable is a matter of gender. Men tend to over-interpret supposed signals of interest from women; male agents should therefore be careful about expressing suspicion that their client is flirting with them. Female agents should be aware of the wording they use when interacting with male colleagues. Because they could see the conversation as flirting, although this is not the intention.

Procedures for different severity levels:

  • Severity 1: Accept the flattery, pretend you haven't noticed, and continue with support.
  • Severity 2: Show you are aware of what is going on by suggesting that you focus on the business.
  • Severity 3: Reference your own and the customer's professionalism and politely ask them to focus on issues related to your service and product.
  • Severity level 4: Let them know that you can really only help them with business issues. Otherwise he will have to look elsewhere. When the flattery turns into stalking behavior, end the conversation.

Unless, of course, you're interested in a date.

When your customer is right and your policy is wrong

Sometimes a single, unusual customer can question part of your service policy. This is great when you are in a position to make the adjustments. When employees are taught to think for themselves, you create a set of rules and an authority to break the rules if necessary - because a customer who teaches you something new is a godsend.

When it is not in your power to change things, there are still some things you can do.

Procedures for different severity levels:

  • Severity 1: Use the Because ... ”reasoning “And explain why the policy is what it is. Even if it gets in the way of the customer's goal, you create understanding and alleviate their disappointment.
  • Severity level 2: Explain that you agree with the customer, but cannot change anything yourself. Show compassion. If this does not satisfy the customer, either move the case to a higher level or find out how your manager should proceed.
  • Severity 3: Make it clear that you are ready to look for an alternative. Either ask what you could do for the customer instead, or offer something right away. For example, if the policy is no refunds, you could still offer some coupon codes for free use of your product if you have the power to do so.

When a customer shouldn't be using a computer

Let's face it, certain customers wear out support due to a lack of skills and understanding. You keep coming back with exactly the same problem, over and over, in the "Groundhog Day" fashion.

Of course, you can't tell a customer that your product requires a basic understanding, even if it does. A competent service employee can simplify things as much as is necessary so that the customer can achieve his goals.

Procedures for different severity levels:

  • Severity 1: Provide screenshots and tutorials. Refer the customer to the critical areas. If chat and email don't solve the problem, switch to the phone, which provides detailed explanations.
  • Severity level 2: adopt the mindset of an absolute beginner and formulate your explanations without technical jargon. Use the ELI5 technology ("Explain it like I'm five years old") and guide the customer in small, understandable steps without technical vocabulary to solve the problem.
  • Severity 3: If your product allows, ask the customer for permission to log into their account and make the changes for them.
  • Severity 4: If you are about to have a nervous breakdown due to a lack of understanding from the customer, blow off steam by raising your voice outside of the conversation, such as while chatting. You can only accept incomprehension to a certain extent, but respect must always be maintained and shown at every point in the conversation. You can of course point out to the customer that it might make sense to hire a professional to do the service for them.

When a customer “trolls”

A troll isn't just someone who refuses to play by the rules. It is someone with an urge to create discomfort, to delight in your frustration. Psychological research established a strong connection between trolls and prototypical sadists.

They are liberal in what they do and conservative in what they interpret as acceptable behavior from others. You, the troll says, are not worthy of my understanding: therefore I will do everything in my power to confuse you.

Mattathias Schwartz, NYT Magazine

You can recognize trolls by their destructive form of communication. This shows up in interruptions, accusations, exaggerations, irrelevant topics of conversation or gross insults. Don't be too patient with a troll. Unlike a racist or sexist who may simply not know their vices, a troll never becomes a customer.

Procedures for different severity levels:

  • Severity 1: Stay cool: " I will be happy to help if you are genuinely interested. Do you have a specific question? If not, I'll end this conversation now .”
  • Severity 2: Take away the fun of the troll by ignoring it.
  • Severity 3: Set up a macro to avoid wasting time with the troll: " You are behaving inappropriately. That's why I'm going to block your account now. From this point on, we will no longer be informed about your messages. Have a nice day .”

When your customer is aggressive

Anger can be for many reasons, be it due to an unapproved discount or simply because the customer has just ruined their shirt with coffee. In customer service, it often results from a perceived lack of fair treatment.

According to recalibration theory, expressions of anger help put the person in a better negotiating position. But when what they want is just impossible, there is no negotiating or fixing the situation. One can only act against anger itself.

Angry customers seem to be much more common than the types described above. In fact, they're even more common than you think: not even 4% of your angry customers will tell you how they feel, but 91% of those who keep quiet will never come back to you. Reason enough to be vigilant for any sign of anger and to deal with the angry but potentially valuable customers.

There are two main types of anger that I would distinguish in the service context. The first type is a customer who is aggressive towards the company or its employees . When the anger is directed at you personally, unrelated to a problem, there is little you can do to neutralize the situation. You should cut the connection at the latest when there are personal threats.

The second type is a customer who is annoyed by the problem , the customer you normally deal with. He can still attack you personally as a professional who didn't do a good job creating such a problem. Customers also often vent their anger through personal insults. It can be hard to define what type of anger you're dealing with. That is why you need to go step by step to calm the anger before you deal with the problem.

Procedures for different severity levels:

  • Severity 1: Approach with calm and compassionate understanding. Make it clear that you understand the customer's situation.
  • Severity 2: Instead, cool the situation down by asking questions. Do not judge or speak about why the anger is unfounded. Ask to explain the situation in detail and answer additional questions to help guide the client back to a more rational way of thinking. It also shows that you take him seriously.
  • Severity 3: Apologize for the situation, but do not assume unfounded guilt: " I'm sorry your laptop stopped working. I can understand that you are upset .”
  • Severity 4: Use the " Because ... ”reasoning .

This article was originally written by Sven Riehle and translated into German by Mara Küsters.