MANAGING difficult or disgruntled clients can be a test of an agent’s skill as much as their patience. As Travel Training Australia managing director Leanne Townsend says, it’s never fun dealing with prickly customers, especially when they are being unreasonable, upset or just plain nasty.

“But instead of ignoring, avoiding or fobbing them off, why not embrace the challenge and learn from the experience,” Townsend says. Here are her top tips for confronting a clearly crotchety customer:

A prickly customer is always in a bad head space and will tell you exactly what is wrong with you and your business and of course it’s a natural reaction to become prickly yourself. Don’t take the situation personally and be big enough to see past any insult. In fact, this is the best opportunity you will have to identify an area of your business that may need improving and one where you may have been totally oblivious to any problems.

Whenever possible, arrange to speak with the customer in person or by phone to get first-hand information. In person is always the best option as it gives you the chance to pick up on key communication signals like negative body language. Emails and texts are not a good option as information can easily be misunderstood from both perspectives making the situation escalate.

Listen to the customer and let them vent without interrupting them. Don’t think of how or what you are going to say in response to the rant but fully concentrate on what they are saying. Keep good eye contact to show the customer you have their attention.

Put yourself in their shoes even if it’s difficult to do so. Consider the fact that there might be other ‘stuff’ going on in their life. Empathise and express genuine sympathy for their unhappy situation. Tell them you are sorry they experienced the problem.

Respond in a way that respects their opinion. Tell them you understand their point of view and offer a resolution, an explanation and/or willingness to help. Follow through with any offer to help.

There are many customers who will come back and use your services again once they have experienced your skills in handling difficult situations so it’s well worth the time, effort and expense to fine tune your skills in this area.

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