Turn Tough Customers Into Loyal Advocates


Whether your tough customer is a hot head or an ice princess, unresponsive or constantly showing up on your caller ID, one thing’s for certain, it takes special effort to manage a relationship with someone who is difficult. Is it worth the trouble? You bet!

Customer opinions wield strong influence over businesses. They can post scathing reviews online and cause others to avoid you. Or, they can become your best source of ongoing sales and referrals. When you win over the tough ones, they can turn into your most vocal supporters.

Here are five ways to create loyal customer relationships:

1.  Win Customers Over With Credibility

Today’s customers tend to be good researchers. They understand technology and use it to find and compare products and services. When you stay on top of industry trends and make a point of learning everything you can about your target market, your credibility will rise, as will the confidence your customers have in you. Subscribe to your industry’s journals and blogs. Read and take courses on communication, conflict management, and customer service. Commit to becoming a lifelong learner and your relevance with your customers will grow.

2.  Find A Positive Quality In Your Client’s Negative Behavior

Dwelling on what you don’t like about a customer makes it hard to form a relationship. Your thoughts have a sneaky way of showing up in the tone of your voice and written communication. Notice what bothers you and ask yourself, “How can I interpret this in a more useful way?” See “demanding” customers as people who “know what they want.” See the “complaining” customer as someone who’s willing to tell you what polite customers might be thinking, but would never say.

It’s easy to feel attacked by a complaint, but it’s much more effective to see it as a gift of feedback. Most customers don’t complain. They move to a competitor without saying a word because they don’t care enough about your company to have an uncomfortable conversation. The complainer gives you a shot at keeping their business and correcting hidden issues that may be affecting other customers, too.

3.  Soften The “No”

When customers demand more than you can give, remember this – conflict, well handled, keeps relationships strong. Most customers can deal with a no if they feel they’re treated fairly. Nothing will alienate a customer faster than an abrupt no, given with an air of disgust. A maybe might seem like the way to soften a no, but only gives false hope that can lead to outrage when the request is eventually refused.

Softening the no means being patient enough to listen fully and consider the customer’s request. It shows that you care. If you have to say no, explain it as directly as you can. When possible, share why the no is in their best interest. For example, “I value your business too much to promise you a two-day project completion. Rushing the job won’t allow us to put it through our standard quality control process.” Continue with possible alternatives like, “What we can do is complete the project by the end of next week, or revise your quote to add additional staff to the project. Which would you prefer?” When you need to say no, make them feel that the answer to “Do I matter?” is still a resounding “YES.”

4.  Manage Customer Expectations

Customers tend to have high expectations. With every point of contact you’ll either meet, exceed, or fall short of their expectations. The good news is – you can anticipate and manage expectations. Notice situations that frequently recur and cause customers to get upset or annoyed. Prepare the customer for certain issues that might happen, so that if it does, they have a frame of reference. For example, instead of saying, “I’ll call you right back,” which they may interpret to mean you’ll call within 10 minutes, be specific and say, “I’ll call you back within the hour.” Otherwise, they may perceive a delay and think you’re unresponsive.

Another way to manage expectations is to solicit customer feedback. You may find out that a customer (and maybe hundreds more) wasted fifteen minutes searching for your phone number because it’s not easy to find on your website. That’s an easy fix. Let customers know that the first draft of your proposal will likely require input and changes to complete, so they don’t overreact when things aren’t perfect right away.

5.  Be Mentally Tough

When customers are at their worst, showing compassion is an act of strength, not weakness. This subtle shift in awareness can change the way you respond to them. When customers get reactive or melt down before your eyes over seemingly small things, a part of them realizes they’ve gone too far. Once they’ve lost their composure, they may be unable to backpedal in the heat of the moment. See their behavior as a call for help rather than taking it personally. When you keep your composure and treat them with dignity, once the situation is over, they’ll appreciate your act of kindness, though they probably won’t tell you that.

An upset customer can be the hardest to handle. When you’re struggling, remember that your customers are the reason your company exists. They’re worth the trouble. Once happy, they’re likely to be just as passionate about sharing the good news about you and your company.

What about you?

What would you add to this list of ways to win over tough customers?