Finessing phone calls: Tips for managing 5 cringe-worthy customers

customer management
by: Shannon Givens , May 28, 2019

While many marketing efforts are geared toward improving customer experience, that doesn’t mean we’ll ever get to the point where all customers are enjoyable to deal with.

As long as there are human beings, there will be difficult customers making inbound sales reps grit their teeth. Whether they enjoy their sense of power or they’re unaware of their negative impact, they can surely be a thorn in our sides.

Unfortunately, research shows disgruntled customers can significantly impact a brand’s image, particularly given the power of online reviews. As such, staffers must understand how to respond to such annoyances as professionally as possible. That can require tact, self-restraint and an ability to overlook overt rudeness, but it also guards company integrity and sometimes salvages profitable sales.

Consider these five challenging customers you’re likely to encounter as an inbound sales professional — and tips for handling them in the best way possible.

  1. Commander Demando: This person displays a sense of entitlement regarding extra privileges, perks and or discounts, perhaps based on the fact he’s already spent money with your company.

Tip: Confirm you’re trying to go above and beyond because he’s a valued customer. Failing to communicate that may (in his mind) imply a lack of respect, and he may escalate his demands. When possible, offer him some kind of concession that doesn’t sacrifice profits.

  1. The Waffler: This customer takes up your valuable time with his indecision, keeping you on the phone while he thinks out loud and mulls his options.

Tip: Offer your opinion and back that up with data, facts or anecdotal evidence that will spur him to commit. A Waffler may be delaying because he enjoys your attention; suggesting he call back after making his choice may be the spark that spurs a decision.

  1. The Defensive Diva: This person seems to take offense when you’re trying to do your job and sell him something even though his initiation of the call proves his interest.

Tip: Disable his defenses by reminding him in a quiet, non-confrontational voice that the choices are his. “It’s a natural behavioral mechanism that when a person is allowed to win, she will start to be more open to what she was fighting against,” advises Sherrie Campbell in Entrepreneur.

  1. The Vague-a-bond: This caller can’t or won’t volunteer the information you need to solve his problem or help him choose a product. Your open-ended questions are met with yes-or-no answers, so the conversation goes nowhere.

Tip: Place yourself squarely in his corner by explaining in non-judgmental terms that you need more input if you’re going to assist him. Try probing questions such as, “What did you mean by that?” or “Can you explain a bit more what kind of product you’re looking for?” You may also try paraphrasing what he’s saying, then give him options to choose from.

  1. The Voracious Venter: Soon after starting a conversation with the VV, you realize he has nothing positive to say and is calling primarily to vent about a previous bad experience with your company.

Tip: Regardless of whether he’s correct, apologize for his distress and convey in a calm, respectful voice that your company values his feedback. Listen, ask questions, repeat back what you believe he’s saying and thank him for calling. Fix the problem on the spot if you can; otherwise, assure him you’ll report his comments to company managers. “If (a salesman) becomes caught up in a customer’s emotional chaos, the negotiation will not be productive,” notes Campbell.

Finally, keep in mind that to most companies, the concept “The customer is always right” has become a misnomer. While most employers expect you to maintain a professional stance in all dealings with customers, few expect you to suck up to those who are unapologetically rude or downright abusive. If that happens, hang up, write down the relevant points of the conversation and report the incident to your supervisor.

“The reality is that problems will occur, people will complain and business will move forward,” advises Nicole Leinbach-Reyhle in Forbes. “Allow yourself to learn from difficult customers in a way to help strengthen your overall business and your overall success.”

Among its many benefits, Custom Toll Free allows you to record and learn from staff conversations with challenging customers. Call us for details at 1-855-855-3030.


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