Your Nightmare Customer
( Dr. Martien Eerhart)

During a recent survey of Customer Service Reps (CSR) who deal with customers on a 1:1 basis (non telephone support), they indicated what a difficult customer looked like. The responses were combined, and classified into 4 different groups.

Power Freaks: This customer doesn't care about solving problems. Their motto is "I'm right and you are wrong." All they care about is to prove that they are right, and the CSR is incompetent. One of the interviewed people working in a photo lab has customers, who blamed the CSR for the poor quality of an image, while it was clearly an inadequate lighting situation. This group appears to be 36% of difficult customers.

The Nagger: This customer just nags and nags. No matter what the solution, they feel a need to express their opinion. This group made up 17% of the headache customers.

I'm Number One: This customer expects you to drop everything to help solve their problem. They call you three times if you are running behind on schedule. This group is 34% of the difficult customers.

I Want to Talk to Your Boss. This customer automatically makes you feel like a nobody by immediately asking for your supervisor. "If you can't give me what I want, then I'm sure your boss will be able to." They want to know when your boss is available, how long you have been with the company. These people were 11% of the problem customers.

The remaining 2% were more incidental and unusual situations.


When dealing with these issues, follow these 3 steps.

Manage expectations upfront: Tell people who need to wait what is ahead of them. One of the postal workers tells people who are in line that it will be approximately 10 minutes for the person who just walked in. A waiter tells people "I will be with you in a moment." In a hotel, you tell a customer, "Your room is ready at 11AM."

Give a reason why! Research shows that people who are told the reason why something happens (in simple terms) are far more cooperative then those who have no idea why they have a problem. One of the CSR at a computer printer manufactory facility was talking with a disgruntled customer whose colors came out different today then 3 days ago. The CSR proceeded to talk about the weather, which upset the customer. When the customer asked when the CSR was planning to solve the printer problem, it turned out that the humidity 3 days earlier was so high, that it caused the problem. As a result, the customer could buy a dehumidifier, and solve the problem. Do you have simple answers to common problems?

Acknowledge their patience. Tell them you appreciate their cooperation. If you thank someone (or pay a compliment) you open the door for more cooperation. One of the receptionists at a hotel would say, "Someone as well dressed as you is obviously successful, and important. So how can I help you solve this problem?" It was amazing how well people respond to it.

Things to avoid

Use of humor. Even though this works for certain people, if you are not one of them, don't try to be funny, unless you know you get usually positive results.

The everyone-knows-that syndrome. Things may be common sense to you, but not to everyone else. One of the customers in a retail store returned a pager because it is not working. When the CSR tested the equipment, it worked fine. The customer noticed how the employee first turned on the pager on. The customer thought it only needed to be turned on to read the message, not to receive a message.

TTM: The biggest problem when dealing with customers is that some CSR just Talk Too Much. They keep yakking and yakking, and the next thing they know, the customer is starting to ask more and more questions. When the customer reaches a point where the CSR cannot explain the questions with simple answers, the CSR is viewed as incompetent. Be aware that some people listen to you, so they can use that against you later.

Author Profile: Martien Eerhart is author of the book 12 Ways to Make Parenthood Easier and Quick guide to Small Business Survival Skills. Mr. Eerhart is a motivator, communicator, trainer and consultant who uses the hands-on approach to learning. For more information, visit his web site

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