A cure for the bad customer

Whether you’ve been in the optical world for years or you’ve simply been on the job a few months, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered a less than ideal customer.

Sometimes it’s a person whose personality doesn’t mesh well with yours and it makes working with them rather difficult. Other times, the person’s reaction is a complete surprise. Both though can make you feel uncomfortable and concerned about work.

Let’s face it, as much as we love the optical industry, it’s not perfect all the time. However, no matter how frustrating some customers can be, there are ways to reduce the fallout from dealing with them, both for you and the business. Whether you take proactive action around a certain element of their care or you simply recognise that some things aren’t in your control, there is such a thing as a cure for a bad customer!

A personal experience…

Think back to the last time you had a trying experience with one of your patients. Maybe they were going on holiday and needed their glasses within a specific time frame and when you informed them you simply couldn’t humanly meet their needs, they decided to take their anger out on you? How about the person who came in for a simple nose pad adjustment and ended up taking an hour of your time with multiple complaints, many of which you just couldn't address?

I’ll never forget the time when a customer came in to pick up his glasses after we had remade them several times. Due to issues at our lab that were completely out of my control, it was well over a month before I had anything acceptable to show this person. Each time I called him to notify him about the delay, his irritation grew, and rightfully so. The tipping point came when he arrived to pick up his glasses, saw something that wasn’t to his liking and then threw them at me before storming out of the office yelling!

So, what can you do?

There are obviously many things that could have been done along the way to try to appease this disgruntled customer. We could (and should) have offered a discount to help compensate for the delay and we should have pressed the lab harder to turn the order around faster. That’s all fine in hindsight but, ultimately, when a customer yells at you or even throws something at you (as in my case) how should you handle that?

  • Listen and be empathetic - Let the customer have their say and sympathise with them to show that you too would be frustrated if you were in their shoes. This builds rapport and should help ease the situation. Also avoid negative language; try statements that begin with, ‘may I suggest’ or ‘let me explain’, for example.
  • Remain calm - Remember the patient is not attacking you personally. Plus, assuming you’ve carried out each element of your job correctly and the issues at hand were out of your control, there’s a minimal level of responsibility for you to take. So remaining calm and refusing to respond in kind will allow you to maintain control and hopefully defuse the situation.
  • Offer to put it right – If there’s been a genuine error on your or your company’s part, or if it’s going to take several hours and stress to defuse the situation, it’s often better to compromise in some way in the customer’s favour to maintain the relationship or, at least, mitigate the risk of negative referrals

By offering your difficult customer the utmost in quality care while not taking their outburst personally, you will end up with the most win-win situation possible.

If things really do get out of hand though, and a bad customer turns ugly, make sure you have an understanding from management as to whether you are able to ask them to leave or not. Due to other circumstances, the individual who threw his glasses at me actually ended up getting “fired” as a patient and was not allowed to return. Knowing your company’s policy for such issues will be an invaluable tool for you to use if needed.

Things to avoid

As much as we’d love to divert a bad customer’s tantrum onto someone else, that rarely solves the problem. Even if a delay in delivering an order was due to a shipping error or a customer returns with an issue because of something a co-worker did, passing the buck is not going to solve the situation and will likely make it worse. In most instances, the best thing to do is to swallow your pride, apologise and suggest how you could help with a smile on your face.

It can be tempting to share our bad customer “horror stories” with others in the office but be careful who you tell. Within my own career, I’ve heard of multiple instances where an optical assistant was complaining about a patient to a co-worker, only to have that person or another customer overhear.

As reputation means so much in this industry, you must make the best of any situation even behind closed doors. Doing this, will also probably make you feel better about the troublesome patient in question.

Shake it off

After an unpleasant interaction with a difficult patient, it’s also normal to feel upset or angry. So, take a moment to let those feelings go, so your whole day isn’t ruined.

While it might sound too optimistic to have an actual cure for a bad customer, sometimes simply knowing you’re not alone is enough to get you through those trying times.

No matter how difficult a patient may be to work with, it’s always prudent to remember the ultimate golden rule of customer service – to treat others how you would like to be treated. Imagine that the pair of glasses you had your heart set on would take far longer than anticipated and then throw in any number of other life stressors and see how you might react.

At the end of the day, we’re all just humans who want to see better.

Courtney Elder has more than 10 years of optical experience and loves wearing fashionable eyewear in Portland, Oregon. Today she works as a freelance writer but still loves all things specs.

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