Dealing With a Difficult Customer During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more challenging to deal with difficult customers...

Dealing With a Difficult Customer During the Pandemic

Dealing With a Difficult Customer During the Pandemic

<strong>The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more challenging to deal with difficult customers.</strong>..

Author: Dan Brecher|January 8, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more challenging to deal with difficult customers. There are significantly more rules for both customers and businesses to follow, and many are feeling frustrated or burned out.

There are several ways to deal with a difficult customer that can yield more positive results than simply losing a customer and moving on. Of course, listening to the customer, actually hearing the concerns, and doing something about a legitimate issue is a best business practice.  But what are the best practices when a customer is not reasonable, or is downright obnoxious, in addition to making unreasonable demands or complaints?

Making Customers Feel Heard

Again, if you have the time and interest in hearing the customer out, depending upon the customer’s actual circumstances and needs, just enduring and outlasting the conversation(s) can serve to mollify a customer who is having emotional issues surrounding the pandemic, issues at home or just is a difficult person who requires a lot of attention.  In my decades of practice, I have found that listening is sometimes all that a client wants — to be heard. Business litigation can be a highly emotional, personal, and anxiety-ridden experience for all the parties involved. The pandemic has created personal and financial losses and stresses at levels beyond anything we have seen during our lifetimes. While patience is surely a virtue these days more than ever, we are all sorely tested in that particular strength.    

Drawing the Line with a Difficult Customer

When our patience is at an end, and it seems we are not going to be able to satisfy unreasonable complaints being delivered in impolite or insulting terms, it is a good idea to say so. See if you can make the customer provide to you the social and business interaction expected between grown-ups. If your customer cannot act in a manner acceptable to you or your staff, and if you can afford to lose that customer, say so to the customer in whatever direct and clear manner that the customer ought to be able to hear and understand. 

I have found that clients respect the direct approach by someone who has at least heard them out — and those who do not respect your approach will not be clients or customers that are worthwhile to retain, so weed them out. Interestingly, you may find that once you have “fired” a customer, having explained to the customer why you are doing so, your former customer may express regret or contriteness, showing that he or she is not as batty as it appeared. That would be a good customer to consider welcoming back into the fold, including a discussion of how to improve communications.

Not to say the customer will change, but I have seen the attitude change dramatically when a client or customer has been confronted directly for very impolite and uncalled for eruptions. To be able to wait for something without becoming frustrated is a virtue we find plentiful in cats, not so much with paying customers. It is on us, as suppliers, producers, professionals and sellers, to be as adult and understanding in dealing with our customers: the good ones will appreciate it and the bad won’t. It will remain your choice as how to deal with incivility, unreasonable demands and irrationality when confronted by a customer exhibiting irritating tendencies.

Training Employees to Manage Customers During COVID-19

Employees are often on the front lines when dealing with difficult customers. It is important that employees also understand the company’s best practices for dealing with difficult customers and addressing the concerns of workers and customers. Workers should also understand how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed the company’s policies and procedures. Of course, employees should also understand what to do if they feel upset or even unsafe when dealing with an angry or irrational customer.

Key Takeaway

When it comes to dealing with difficult customers, the best advice I have seen is to not react out of anger, to take (or give) a time out, and to consider the long-range needs over the short-range benefit of a response. Of course, serious customer concerns should always be discussed with experienced legal counsel.

If you have questions, please contact us

If you have any questions or if you would like to discuss these issues further,
please contact Dan Brecher or the Scarinci Hollenbeck attorney with whom you work, at 201-896-4100.

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About Author Dan Brecher

Dan Brecher

Dan Brecher's experience ranges from general counsel of New York Stock Exchange and NASD/FINRA member brokerage firms to representation of companies in hundreds of public and private securities offerings and advising institutional and high net worth investors.

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