Guide for Dealing with Tough Customers

Tough customers are inevitable, and as your business grows, you’re bound to encounter challenging situations. Use this guide to learn how to turn tough customers into valuable learning experiences.

How to deal with tough customers

Tough customers are inevitable, and as your business grows, you’re bound to encounter challenging situations. Sometimes it can be due to a mistake on your end, like a delay or misprint, but at other times, it can seem like customers are just out to get you. When mismanaged, it can be both frustrating and demoralizing for any customer support team.

As a business leader, though, this is a great opportunity to establish company culture and proactively engage directly with customers to create policies that make sense for your business. Follow these simple steps to learn how to use tough customers as a valuable training exercise.

Step 1: Remember the Value

First, remember just how important these customers are. Buried in the angry comments is a resource for improving your product and your most important business metric, retention. If you maintain an open mind, these customers can help you experience your product and messaging in a new way. Be excited! In most cases, every customer that speaks up and expresses frustration is likely representing a larger group of your customers who are also frustrated (they’re just choosing not to speak up or they’re cancelling without giving you feedback).

Reflecting on this from the beginning is key to keeping a positive attitude. Critically, this shows your team that you do not need to get defensive or take angry comments personally, a tendency that can be common in new customer support agents. Instead, see it as an opportunity to test positive messaging and possibly a winback offer (an extra discount or incentive to keep the customer from cancelling). This is a source for learning. Check out our guide on setting expectations with your customers.

Step 2: Be Thorough and Take Your Time

Rushing through customers increases the likelihood of missing something or having an error. While it may be tempting to just be done with a tough customer, understand that any mistakes made now will compound the bad experience for the customer and may even cause more problems for you down the road. Doing poor work that requires customers to reach back out will greatly affect your chances of retaining them. Research past emails and messages, locate full account history, and check payment receipts diligently.

In addition to assuring accuracy, another good reason to be thorough is that it helps you better understand the customer and what will work when trying to win them back. Calculate the lifetime value, see what offers they’ve been presented in the past, and read their past complaints for trends or specific points of dissatisfaction. When providing your solution, paint a clear picture for the customer that shows you’ve done your homework and are committed to providing a good answer. Make it easy for them.

Note: Over customer satisfaction ratings, some studies suggest that customer effort is more important in determining loyalty. Ask yourself how simple you’re making your customer support solutions and attempt to minimize all effort by the customer in correcting an error.

Step 3: Shock Them with a Retention Offer

Like satisfaction reports, there is debate on whether or not deep discounts increase customer loyalty overall, but for a subscription business, angry customers are a good place to test the theory, especially if the discount is only a one-time offer or requires them to sign on for a longer period.

For example, you may consider providing an angry customer who has been with your subscription a few months 50% off their next box, or a replacement with extra or special items. Alternatively, perhaps it is a small, but lifetime discount that doesn’t significantly affect ARPU.  Check out our guide on Key Performance Indicators for Subscription Businesses.

Whatever the offer, making the extra effort to win back the customer can go a long way. It’s also suggested that you state your desire to make it up to them. Consider phrasing like this:

  • “We’d love to offer you 15% off your next box. We’re very sorry for the poor experience and we would love to make it up to you.”

The idea is simple: if you’re able to keep the customer continuing their subscription, it’s likely you’ll recover the cost of the offer in future lifetime value, or even in referrals to new customers. Remember that your customers want to feel valued. Don’t be afraid to go that extra mile for customers!

Step 4: Have them Rate Your Service

After you’ve helped your customer, considering asking them to take a short survey or questionnaire at the end of the call. If you’re using a customer service application like Zendesk, they have build in tools to manage these communications. There are a few statistics that are considered most important:

    • Customer Satisfaction. Example: “Were you satisfied with the agents help and solution?”
    • Customer Effort. Example: “How much effort did you have to put forth to handle your request?”
    • Net Promoter Score. Example: “Would you recommend us to a friend or family member?”

These can be scored 1 to 5, 1 to 10, or simply with ‘Yes or No’ answer formats. For each metric, shoot for an 80% or higher as a goal.

Reflect on Your Strategies

In customer support, it’s critical to continuously reflect and improve strategies and messaging. In fact, over time, a diligent and committed team will soon be able to make short work of tough customers; it becomes a stressless aspect of service.

Practice the same effort with your tough customers. Ask yourself: How does your team value these customers internally? How thorough, yet simple are answers? What are you doing to provide that warm feeling for customers? How are customers rating your service?

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About Jameson Morris

Jameson Morris is an entrepreneur and pioneer of Subscription Commerce. As a self proclaimed 'subscription box serial entrepreneur,’ Jameson has founded multiple successful subscription businesses, such as Conscious Box, Escape Monthly and Yogi Surprise.

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