Dealing with difficult customers

Have you ever had a client or customer who was boiling with rage and was threatening to bring down your entire business? Perhaps you interact with customers over the phone. You might have received a call from a bitter customer who felt he was cheated by your company. How did you handle such a challenge?

Within Customer Service, it is usual to refer to such customers as ‘Irate customers’. And it is helpful to know how to handle such cases before they arise.

Young woman on terrace using mobile phone

First, it is important to know that an irate client is not necessarily an ‘evil’, ‘troublesome’, or ‘aggressive’ person. In many cases, they are simply ordinary individuals who became deeply infuriated about a certain act of service failure. And such cases often arise after repeated failures from the organization. It is also sometimes the case that the person is simply a very expressive or demanding customer who will not overlook poor service.

So how should we respond?

  • Don’t tell the person to calm down. It will only worsen the situation.
  • Gently apologize and try to assure the person that she has your attention. If she’s a walk-in customer, find a way to pull her aside and sit with her to discuss the problem.
  • Allow her to verbalize her feelings and frustrations (even if some of it is not directly related to the issue at hand) and listen completely.
  • Remain calm and don’t take her utterances personal; she is merely venting over ‘poor service’.
  • Apologize sincerely and patiently explain what you will do to resolve the issue. Keep in mind that all the customer really wants is ‘an answer’.
  • Follow through promptly with the resolution.
  • After the incident is resolved, follow up later with a call to ensure she is truly satisfied. This will also help to preserve the brand image of the business. Remember that one dissatisfied customer will complain to at least five people about the poor service she received (and that was before social media!).
  • If you encounter an irate customer who is too difficult to handle, it is wise to escalate to a superior. But if the client becomes violent, please alert a security official. Violence is never justified.

Most cases, however, do not warrant enlisting a third party. With a dose of empathy, a cup of tact, and a spoonful of empathy, you can resolve the situation and get your customer smiling again.

Book Review: Business as Mission by Michael R. Baer

Can Business be more than an enterprise for the generation of profit? Is there a higher purpose to this human activity?

This book argues that there is.

Business as Mission, according to the author, is an attempt to “explore how companies can align with God’s purpose and bring him glory.” This journey flows from the realization that there are no independent compartments in our Business as Missionlives. Every aspect, including business, is just a part of one unified story being written by God. As such it is must be practiced in a way that glorifies Him. All Christians are called to a project of seamless integration of business and mission; the separation of sacred and secular is futile. Here we discern the sweet idea of Abraham Kuyper.

He begins with a clarification – Christian business vs Kingdom business.

Christian business he understands to be either a business that is owned by a Christian, involved in a ‘Christian’ activity, or one managed by biblical principles. A Kingdom business, however, goes much further. It is a business that is ‘specifically, consciously, clearly and intentionally connected to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in this world.’ Such a business has 4 vital characteristics:

  • It is vocational
  • It is intentional
  • It is relational
  • It is operational

These features constitute the major divisions of the book.

A Kingdom business is Vocational

Business has to be seen as a legitimate calling from God. We need to see that business is a God-given mechanism for the provision of human needs, just as other social units like family or government serve other ends. It fulfills the two purposes of provision and relationship. Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University, has a similar idea of the ‘mission statement’ of business, which he described as follows:

  1. Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work.
  2. Business exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

He rightly identifies the sacred-secular dichotomy as a major stumbling block for most Christians. We have grown up believing that to be spiritual is to be immersed in ‘Church’ work. We thereby fail to see all other areas of life as equally sacred. The late Dallas Willard was quoted to that effect:

 ‘There is truly no division between sacred and secular except what we have created, And that is why the division of the legitimate roles and functions of human life into the sacred and secular does incalculable damage to our individual lives and to the cause of Christ. Holy people must stop going into “church work” as their natural course of action and take up holy orders in farming, industry, law, education, banking and journalism with the same zeal previously given to evangelism or to pastoral and missionary work.’

And the author brilliantly concludes: “All of life is sacred for the Christian, and the realization of that truth sets us free to serve God in all aspects of our existence.” Business is a high calling from God.

A Kingdom Business is Intentional

Every Business has a unique purpose which has to be discovered and lived out. It must identify its role in God’s drama of kingdom history and act it diligently. A kingdom business is deliberate about advancing God’s kingdom. While it recognizes that business is a valid calling from God, it will also seek to affect the world for Christ. Such a business looks beyond profit; it uses its operation as an avenue to reach the world with the gospel of Christ. Michael Baer gives several examples of Christians who started business as a means of witnessing to Christ. I read the story of Mira, a young Christian lady from Central Asia, who launched a handcraft manufacturing business. By gathering other young women into her home as employees, she created an informal network for passing across the message of Christ. We should creatively develop avenues for such interactions with our world.

How can we identify the unique kingdom role for our business? The author recommends a six-point step that should help in this regard:

    1. Pray
    2. Read and meditate on scripture
    3. Meet and interact with others who have discovered their kingdom purpose
    4. Expose yourself to what God is doing in the world
    5. Keep a journal
    6. Write a kingdom impact statement

As we practice this, our purpose becomes clearer and then we can run with it.

Kingdom Business is Relational

Business is about relationships, and it is increasingly evident in our modern world. The rise in importance of Customer Relationship Management as an aspect of business bears this out. Thus a Kingdom Business has better resources for fulfilling this objective. He has the example of God himself, the revelation in the Bible and the help of the Holy Spirit. According to the author, not only are relationships fundamental to life, they provide excellent kingdom opportunities. He writes:

“History , scripture , and even our own personal experience demonstrates that God’s primary conduit for expresing Himself in the world is through relationships. The influence of the gospel does not come through organizations but comes through human interaction, through a people-to-people process.”

This is true. Most conversions have to do with someone bearing witness to the gospel through personal conversation or through godly character. I was brought to Christ through the faithful witness of an older brother. So the role of relationships is critical.

Every business is about relationships in diverse forms: Shareholders, Employees, Customers, Vendors, etc. For a kingdom-minded business, these are opportunities for advancing the kingdom. We have to discern the stage the individual is on the ‘Kingdom continuum’ and know what is the appropriate form our relating should take. For instance, a matured Christian who happens to be a Customer will not require the same kind of ministry as a Vendor who is yet unaware of the gospel.

The obligation to develop relationships derives from the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is really what relationships are about – loving others just as Christ has loved us.

A Kingdom Business is Operational

Finally, a business has to be efficient.It is not enough to treat people right or to understand that business is pleasing to God, we need to strive for excellence in all the operations of the business. He identifies several authors whom I have also found helpful in this regard, such as Tom Peters, Jim Collins, and Peter Drucker. Several principles could be mined from their writings on how to achieve excellence in the operations of any organization. These would include: Developing a ‘core ideology’, setting bigger-than-life-goals (or BHAGs as Jim Collins calls them), and getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off it).

An essential aspect of a kingdom business’ operational excellence is a strong ethical culture. Several ethical systems have been devised, ranging from Pragmatism to Relativism. But these all explicitly or indirectly deny the absolute nature of truth. The business world harbours greed, selfishness, and lust, but it is the role of kingdom businesses to bring light into this vital sphere.

He concludes with directives for bringing this vision to life in our various businesses.

This book is a helpful guide in a most crucial sector of human society. For, as the author notes in the epilogue, “Companies, and not countries, will have the greatest impact in our world in the future”.

When Service fails


Customers don’t expect you to be perfect.

They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.

–Donald Porter

It is not news that service sometimes fails. A client’s complaint is not responded to. A test result is delayed at the hospital. Your mechanic forgets to change the oil in your car. Service does fail. The crucial factor is what an organization or individual does about it. This is what proves that one is truly service oriented. According to Kristin Baird of the Baird Group, the real test of excellence is when a bad experience is honestly addressed and swiftly turned around. How then can a business go about recovering the goodwill and satisfaction of her customers after a service failure? The essential thing about service recovery is to have a plan before the failure occurs and ensure that the service representatives understand the process.

And such a plan would include the following:

  • Invite and encourage your customers to express their discontent. Provide channels like toll-free lines, complaint boxes, mail boxes, where customers can easily voice out their perceived problems with your business or service process. In addition, listen for off hand comments and remarks which could be pointers to defects in your system. A comment like, “I wish there were more tellers at this branch” could indicate that your bank customers are underserved.

  • Don’t wait for customers to complain; examine your existing process and look for possible areas of service failure. When you discover these points, act promptly to correct them.

  • When service actually goes bad, the first thing to do is apologize. I know many companies discourage their staff from apologizing too quickly. This is because, it is believed, apologizing would imply you admit you are wrong and could make you liable should the customer decide to sue you. However, let’s consider this for a minute. What happens if you do not apologize? You lose a customer, and probably lots more through negative publicity. Besides, if you were actually wrong, it’s simple courtesy (and respect) to apologize. And remember, Business IS about people (your customers) and not your ego. So apologize for the bad experience and move on to the next step.

  • Get the issue resolved promptly. Find out what went wrong and fix it. It makes no sense for a tailor, for instance, to damage my beautiful ankara outfit, and offer a hymn to me in apology, without thinking of how to correct the damage. Or imagine your bank wrongly debiting your account and sending you a nicely written ‘We are Sorry’ card, with no mention that the error has been reversed. It simply doesn’t count.

  • Close the loop and give feedback to the customer. When service fails, the customer wants to know it’s been corrected. So let her know. Don’t keep her wondering whether she should switch to someone else. Make her believe you know what you are doing and that she can give you another chance.

The Steward

We do not really own anything. Our possessions, relationships, and time. They are all on loan to us from God, who is their true owner. And this leads to the responsibility to use them wisely and properly. This is stewardship, and it is the foundation for business and service.

Business is the creation and distribution of a product or service for the benefit of people.
We provide food, clothing, and Ipads because they are useful to people. We render Stewardshipservices like laundry, insurance, and hair styling because someone derives benefit from them. In carrying this out, we utilize resources such as skill, money, and time. Since these are not ultimately ours, they must not be abused. We would not mistreat our staff and employees, but rather respect them and encourage their growth and development as humans. We would respect our customers’ and employees’ time which are a vital element in the production process. What about vendors and investors? We would honour our commitments to vendors and manage well the funds received from investors and shareholders.

We should serve our customers well because even the opportunity to serve them is a God-given gift. We are stewards, and this is what stewards do.

It’s about your Customers

unhappy customer

Businesses exist for their customers. This obvious principle is one of the most difficult for modern organizations to truly get. Customers are confronted with a myriad of complicated procedures and processes for receiving a service. At the end, you wonder whether the business is a process laboratory rather than an entity designed to serve people.

It is essential that customers get the service they need without having to go through so much hassles of process and procedure. True, modern challenges like terrorism, money laundering, internet fraud, etc, might necessitate that companies adhere to certain regulations. And by implication, customers would also have to comply with certain requirements. However, a service oriented company would make these as minimal as possible. And it would also ensure that customers understand why certain requirements are made.

Above all, the service representatives should recognize and treat the customers as humans who should be loved and respected in every service encounter. For, without them, I repeat again, there would be no business.

Service – a Distinguishing factor

There is a bakery close to my house. I like going there weekly to buy bread. Although I have not been too fond of their service, I continue to patronize them because  the product is satisfactory and the store is just a walking distance.

This morning, my wife informed me another bakery might be opening some metres closer to our house. If I check them out when they do open and find that their bread (that’s the priority!) and their service are much better, what do you think I would do? Switch, of course.bread

Often, businesses become complacent and assume they have their customers for life. They forget they are in competition with other providers, both present and future. And while the product is excellent, they ignore the need to provide good service.

Businesses lose customers not just because their product is deficient, but also because their service is poor. And it is crucial they get this in order because service is the purpose of business after all.

The Heart of Service

Genuine service comes from a caring heart.

When you receive a call from a customer, when you meet with a customer making an enquiry in your store, when you attend to an accident victim in the hospital, when a customer brings his faulty car to your workshop, your ability to care is crucial.

The secret to offering great service is to be more concerned about the person you are helping than yourself. This is why genuine service is so rare.


We have a distorted view of things. Each person seeks his own interest and does not care about others. This is the heart of Nigeria’s problem; corruption is a moral problem. And it has an old name – Selfishness. We create our universe without ourselves at the centre. ‘It’s all about me’ – that’s the universal anthem. And when we adopt this as our rule of life, genuine service becomes impossible.

In his delightful book Life@Work, John Maxwell lists what serving entails in our practical dealings with people. Among others, he includes:

    1. It means getting to know people as people, not just human work machines.
    2. It means learning their names, their spouses’ names, their parents’ names, and maybe even their kids’ages and birthdays.
    3. It means becoming a good listener, not just a good talker.
    4. It means getting involved with people, not always keeping a professional distance. (While I am often guilty, I have a brother who excels at this)
    5. It means remembering the conversation

Simply put, serving people means getting to deal with them, literally. It means getting to know them. And this has to be deliberate.

There is no hiding the fact that serving people can be messy. There are irritable people, insincere people, and callous people. Some will take you for granted. I have dealt with customers who lie just to have their way. And a number of us have worked with people who simply cannot be satisfied. They will literally drain you. But it’s the way to go, if we desire fulfillment in life. No wonder Jesus said, he who would keep his life will lose it. However, when we sow that life as a seed for the good of others, it yields an enormous harvest.