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How to Handle a Customer Who’s Just Plain Wrong

by Jennifer Mattern
customer service
customer service

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“The customer is always right.”

How many times have you heard that? What a load of crap. The customer is not always right. In fact, customers are very often just plain wrong. Some expect the moon and the stars but they want them for next to nothing. Others are ignorant about how a product or service works because they chose to be lazy, ill-informed consumers instead of doing their research up front. And still others just like to gripe for the sake of griping.

That’s not to say that customers are always wrong — not by any means. With social media making it easier than ever for people to share their opinions about companies, brands, products, and services with many, we’re seeing more and more grievances aired publicly.

I really can’t say there’s anything wrong with that. If your company screws up (which you undoubtedly will from time to time), the customer has a right to be peeved and it’s your responsibility to step up and do something to remedy the situation.

But what happens when you get one of the “gripers” or a customer that really just doesn’t know what they’re talking about? Here are a few things you can do to try to ease the situation without making a bigger mess of it.

1. Make the customer feel right, even if they’re dead wrong.

angry customer

Credit: BigStockPhoto.com

Yes, the customer might be wrong. But one of the worst things you can do is essentially say “hey buddy, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” That doesn’t help them “get it,” it might blow up what was otherwise just a simple misunderstanding on their part, and you’ll probably piss them off pretty royally. And that just leads to more complaining… possibly publicly… possibly turning you into a villain against the poor independent consumer all because you couldn’t play nice.

Rather than “that’s incorrect,” try “I think their might be a misunderstanding. Let me see if I can help clear it up.” Instead of “it’s not our fault you can’t figure out how to use it correctly,” show them how. Come across as slightly humble and as helpful as you can be, and you’ll make the customer feel like a hero for getting their “problem” fixed.

2. Stay positive (at least on the outside).

Yes, you might want to pull your hair out when a customer can’t figure out how to follow simple instructions so they run to you with support requests. Sure, you might want to give them a piece of your mind as they yell at you or berate you because of their own ignorance. You might even contemplate getting out of any business involving customer service inquiries from time to time when you deal with the truly unruly type of customer. I’ve been there too.

But no matter how much they’re making your blood boil, keep that inside. There needs to be an “inner you” and an “outer you.” Inner you is the one thinking “Can’t you just use a f*ing brain cell or two like everyone else in the world???” Outer you, on the other hand, is the one saying “Let me see if I can help you fix this today.” Customers like outer you. And handling even a ridiculous customer complaint effectively and positively can turn an angry customer into one of your biggest fans.

3. Know when it’s time to walk away.

goodbye

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Yes, it’s okay to walk away from an angry customer. You probably cannot fix every problem out there… especially if that problem is a customer who just isn’t able to use your product effectively. You can’t always afford to spend countless hours via email and phone support with one customer who might have paid just a few dollars for what you offer, just because they want hand-holding to figure it out.

In those cases it’s perfectly alright to say “enough is enough,” especially if you’re a small business owner or independent professional who doesn’t have all day to educate one client. In those cases — as rare as they might be — I’ve found it effective to simply offer a refund and pleasantly explain that you don’t feel you (or your product) are the best fit for them. If that happens, I would suggest referring them to another company that might better fit their needs. If they really aren’t a good fit for your company, they’ll often actually appreciate that referral, and I’ve found that those clients tend to come back later when they are ready for what I have to offer.

Dealing with customers who are just downright wrong about a situation can be incredibly frustrating. But that’s a part of being in business. Just don’t make the mistake of assuming anyone who’s unhappy with you is “wrong.” Many will be right, and you’ll do yourself a huge disservice if you let your ego get in the way of admitting it and fixing real problems as they come up. Happy customers help you grow your business. Always do your best to help them when you can, even if you really aren’t at fault.

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2 comments

DAAAHHH January 8, 2011 - 1:46 pm

gee, are you a Yale grad comming up with this??? You should ask your wife for a raise.

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Cat April 20, 2011 - 6:45 pm

Had a customer get mad at me for trying to keep his appointment date from being change for a lack of him not getting back to me with his product choose. I explained that for me to order and have it here in time for installation date and that i was trying to get ahold of him for two weeks. Date was coing up fast. He told me that i was bothering him and his wife that they were away on vacaton. He wanted his money back and was going to get other tenders for the bid. He didnt see how i was protecting is install date with the reminder. What?

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