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Success With Difficult Customers - The Mindset
Copyright 2007 By Robert Bacal

We all have to deal with difficult, angry or even manipulative customers. The process is usually infuriating, frustrating and time consuming. While it often seems we are at the mercy of unpleasant customers (or people in general), that's not really true. By learning defusing skills, and keeping a mindset that helps you become immune to the insults, barbs and attacks difficult customers make, you can reduce the frustration caused by these situations, while offering better customer service. In this series of articles we'll help you with both the skills and mindset to deal with difficult customer situations. This week, we'll talk about maintaining a mindset that will provide the foundation for coping with them.

What's the best way to think about difficult customers? First, a common reaction people have to nasty or abusive people is to feel out of control or manipulated. Unfortunately, if you feel manipulated, you are more likely to react defensively or aggressively, both of which make the situations much worse. So, here's a first thing to remember. It's so important you should memorize it.

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I will not allow the difficult, unpleasant person to make me upset, angry, or frustrated. I will not allow this person (who I hardly even know) to ruin my day, or make me unhappy, because in the scheme of things this person is not important enough to control my life (is anybody, really?).

Second, you need to be clear about your goals when you face a nasty customer. Is it to get even? To humiliate? Often your initial gut reaction to such people is to show them up...to fight back. While that's a normal reaction, guess what happens if you try? The interaction goes on much longer than it would otherwise. And as the situation goes on longer, it's likely to get worse, more upsetting, particularly if the customer decides to go over your head.

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You need to be practical and realistic here. Put aside the getting even part (remember, you aren't going to let the customer get your goat), unless you want more unpleasantness. Here's a simple set of goals you can work towards.

  • I want to deal with this person professionally.

  • I want to end this nasty interaction as quickly as possible (which means NOT throwing gasoline on the fire).

By working towards these simple goals, you will do your job more effectively, and act in ways you can be proud of. Let's make no mistake here. You don't have to like the nasty person, or even wish them well. But what you should be doing (for your own benefit) is to continue to act professionally and calmly, and to avoid doing anything that will prolong the visit to hell the customer is trying to inflict upon you. It's to your benefit to do so.

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Is there more to this defusing mindset? Yes. In my work with thousands of employees stuck dealing with angry, difficult or hostile customers, one thing sticks out about how the successful employees think. They take a fundamental position that goes like this.

When this customer is gone, I want to look back at the way I acted (regardless of how it turned out), and say, with pride, that I acted professionally, and constructively, and did not stoop to the childish (aggressive, nasty, etc.) level of the unpleasant customer. I never ever want to feel that I acted badly.


You might notice something about what's written above...something that's different than what others focus on. I don't focus on how it's "good" to be nice to unpleasant people. I don't tell you to smile when you are having your butt kicked verbally. And, I don't hammer on the usual value of customer service. That's because I know that the reason you should work to learn how to defuse angry people is FOR YOU. The benefits and advantages of doing so are overwhelming in terms of reducing stress, enjoying the job and feeling a sense of job satisfaction. Remember that. It's for YOU. And by serving the "better part of yourself, you will, coincidentally, be offering better customer service and become a more effective contributor to your organization.



Robert Bacal is a noted author, keynote speaker, and management consultant. His most recent books include Performance Management - A Briefcase Book, and The Complete Idiot's Guide To Dealing With Difficult Employees. The Work911 Supersite contains many more free articles and tips on a number of workplace topics. Access it at www.work911.com. Robert can be contacted via e-mail at ceo@work911.com  or by phone at (204) 888-9290.

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