Dealing with Difficult Customers

A confrontation with a customer is never fun but you can remain in control of the situation by following a few simple tips

Dealing with Difficult Customers

Everyone has a story about his or her most difficult customer. 

Rick Wilcockson, owner of Accurate Septic & Well Inspections in Troy, Missouri, has a few. 

“We’ve had jobs where people ran us off the job site and told us we were going to burn in hell. I’ve had my tires slashed four times; I’ve been held at gunpoint four times; I’ve been attacked by dogs. When you tell people their system is failing and in order for it to meet the inspection criteria they’re going to need a new drainfield, which can be $10,000, they get very angry and upset.” 

Educating customers, especially those who haven’t previously owned a home with a septic system and are new to the concept, is also part of the customer-service equation. 

“An uneducated customer is the worst kind of customer,” says Jeff Keller, owner of Bulldog Contractors. “They get upset about prices because they don’t understand what you did. 

“We take time to explain everything — go over the process step by step. Sometimes customers are stressed out and frustrated because they’re taking time off work to be at home, which is a huge hurdle to overcome. But if you can take the time to show them you’re going to do a professional job, it can help minimize price objections.” 

While there’s no excuse for lashing out at a septic professional just trying to do his job, it pays to get out ahead of difficult situations with customers by clearly explaining what the issue is, how you’re going to solve it, and how much it will cost. 

Price will always be a sticking point for some people when it comes to septic maintenance or replacement, but cost complaints don’t mean you have to lower your prices. Some people will always make decisions solely on price. You can’t win that game. But for other people (perhaps even a majority) that’s not the only deciding factor. 

If a customer tells you they’re going with someone cheaper — fine. If you can’t fight competition on price, make sure you beat them on something else — outstanding customer service, no billing problems, friendly staff.  

Take the heat

While some complaints are silly, others are certainly justified. Maybe your technician had a bad day and was rude to someone. Or you got impatient when trying to explain how a drainfield functions for the thousandth time and came across unintentionally patronizing. 

If the fault is yours own up to it. Regardless, dealing with a difficult or angry customer is never fun but you can remain in control of the situation by following a few simple tips. 

Watch the tone — your own and theirs. You can usually tell when someone is upset by how they’re speaking to you. Remain calm, keep your tone low, speak clearly and stay respectful. Don’t match their tone if they’re being rude; it will only make things worse. 

Listen. Without interrupting. Let them say their piece before you start defending yourself. This allows you to get all the facts and then make your case. And if part of the problem is on you or your employee, you’re already on your way to solving the issue because you weren’t rude and heard the person out. 

Empathize. Think about their perspective. If you are in the wrong, think of a way to make it right — and apologize. If you’re not, starting with a simple line like “I can see why you’re frustrated” let’s them know you’re not dismissing their concerns, and will help resolve the situation in a respectful way. Don’t tell customers to calm down. It’s disrespectful and will most likely cause the customer to do the complete opposite.  

If you’re wrong, make it right. Pay for damaged property, offer a discounted service on their next pumpout — whatever seems like a fitting solution. 

If you take a positive, proactive approach with legitimately upset customers, you’ll be able to afford to get rid of the truly bad ones. 


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