Tough Customer Situations

Tough customer situations. Like them or not, you can be sure you will encounter them from time to time when working in the field of customer success.

Whether you are directly responsible for the cause problem or not, it doesn’t make much of a difference in the eyes of a customer. As their Success representative, they will expect you to understand why this issue is impacting them and their job and provide an appropriate resolution to their problem quickly. Quite the order to fill during what is already a tense scenario.

In my experience, keeping the following things in mind as you approach your interactions with your customer will you and them in defusing a tough situation:

  • Remain collected and calm
  • Listening and empathy
  • Take concrete steps to address the issue

Remain collected and calm:

You can’t de-escalate a tough customer situation if you find yourself matching their elevated tone. Maintain a calm demeanor and let your customer vent, if they would like to. Once they’ve said what they need to say, they will most likely return to a more calm state and then you can begin to open up two-way conversation to take corrective steps. Most importantly, the customer may provide insights as to what’s gone wrong thus far which will help you figure out how to best go about fixing their situation.

Listening and empathy:

I’m my opinion (and experience), this is probably the most important component when facing a tough customer situation. Listening and acknowledging the customer’s frustration is important for a couple of reasons: It will allow you to dig deep into your customer’s pain points and understand the sequence of events up to this point from the customer’s perspective. I find having all of this information in mind important as I begin to take steps to address the customer’s situation and advocate for them internally.

I’ve found it helpful to project back to them some of the points of frustrations that they’ve expressed after I have given them time to vent. This helps build credibility with these customers as it shows that you understand what’s gone wrong throughout their experience and have truly listened to their concerns. This allows them to stop focusing the problem and viewing your company negatively as they will trust that you will do all you can to help them out.

Take concrete steps to address the issue:
It’s important to share your plan of action with the customer. You’ve taken time to listen and understand what went wrong with the customer’s experience. Now it’s time to let them know what you will do to improve the situation. Linking your action-steps and plan to address the issue back to the failure points that the customer has experienced will be important in helping you gain credibility.

From here, taking full ownership of communicating next-steps and status updates should fall on you, if at all possible. You don’t want to have your customer having to deal with another team member after providing you with a rundown of their situation. On the plus side, if you are able to turn the situation around, many times they also be happy to let you know how grateful they are. If you are in a role where building long-term relationships with your customers is important, then resolving their issues will go a long way to showing your customer that you truly are an advocate for them and coming through for them during tough times will only add value to your relationship with them.

As the saying goes, you can’t control all situations, but you can control how you react to them. The added benefit is that in customer success, your reaction to these situations can help turn around the experience of your customer, arm you with the knowledge and experience to apply to future tough situations and allow you to grow as a professional in the process.


Sergio Castaneda is currently an Associate Solutions Engineer with Sprout Social

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