Complaint Department - Please take a Number

It’s normal to be annoyed but let’s not waste the gift

It’s perfectly normal, isn’t it, to react defensively or in a generally negative way when we feel a customer is being difficult?

By which we mean they are being unreasonable, insensitive, rude, or simply annoying.

And even the most zealous advocate of superior customer service will surely agree there is a limit to how far we should be expected to go with the old “customer is always right”, principle.

Because, objectively speaking, sometimes customers can be quite unreasonably demanding, or just plain rude.

But it’s not good business to allow our initial or even abiding sense of annoyance or indignation to waste what is paradoxically a gift to our business by passing up the learning opportunity.

The fact that a customer is behaving in such a way as to have been tagged by us as “difficult” may in fact be saying something we need to know about our business, our products or our service delivery. Even – or especially – if it’s something we don’t really want to know right now.

Turning the situation around

And sometimes, by handling the problem effectively we can see a “difficult” customer turn into a happy one and even an advocate for our services.

That can happen where someone feels that no one is listening to them, then a person in the company takes an interest and helps solve the problem.

Have you ever been the difficult customer?

I know I have, and more than once.

For example, just a couple of weeks ago we found, on a Friday night, that all our websites seemed to have been hacked and variously disfigured or made to disappear.

Our first attempts to get help from our web hosting service HostGator were frustrating:

  • a long time delay for the online chat service
  • pro forma response from Support when we raised a ticket there

And it was getting late into the night and I was tired.

So I went on Twitter and with a “not happy” tweet I quickly got the attention of the person or people handling the HostGator account there. They requested my details via direct message and promised some action. I went to bed and when I woke up and checked in I found a detailed report from HostGator support, most of the sites back up and running, with nasty code eliminated, and sufficient instruction for me to be able to fix items that I needed to do directly.

HostGator kudos tweet

I had quickly switched from difficult customer to happy customer and once again an advocate for HostGator. And tweeted about my pleasure with that.

Six benefits of a ‘difficult customer experience

In a post on this subject elsewhere, on the MYOB Pulse blog, Why difficult customers are good for business I have written about six benefits that can be wrapped up in the “gift” of a customer being difficult:

  1. Highlights a product flaw
  2. Exposes a practical gap in staff knowledge
  3. Shows the customer’s perspective
  4. Pinpoints communication challenges
  5. Exposes a “sales at all cost, forget about after-sales service” mentality in your business
  6. Reveals a 3rd party supplier problem for which we are responsible to answer to our customers

You may think of more. If so, please share.

Image credit: Complaint Department – Please Take a Number by Niven, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0


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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).