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Dealing with Difficult Customers in the Home Services Industry

Some customers can test the patience of even the most stoic contractor. Find out how to keep calm!

A tough customer. You’ve seen them before. Maybe you see one every day. 

We all cringe a little thinking about those conversations—someone’s unhappy with their bill, grumbles about your waiting list, or complains about how long it took to get the job done (or even how quickly you got it done if they feel they paid too much). Let’s face it; sometimes the actual work is the easy part. Often, managing a challenging customer poses a greater hurdle. 

Luckily, you can use a few tricks you to smooth over those difficult situations. Keep these methods handy just in case things get ugly. 

First, The Why

Why are they angry? If you can really diagnose what’s going on, it will do more than just help you empathize with a challenging customer. It’ll help you find the right approach to diffusing the situation and effectively move forward. 

Home services customers get upset for many reasons, but here you’ll find a few complicating factors: 

  • Life Stress: Some customers are really just angry about something else in their lives, but they’re taking it out on you. 
  • Their Home Problem: Often, the problem itself is stressful enough to upset anyone. If you own an HVAC business and you’re responding to a busted furnace, for instance, that customer probably feels like an iceberg. (And have you ever seen a happy iceberg? We sure haven’t.) 
  • Some people don’t like home services companies. Nothing personal! Some people just don’t want a reminder about whatever just broke. You’re the solution to their problems, but calling you is something a lot of homeowners really don’t want to do. They’d rather their plumbing never got clogged or their house cleaned itself. 
  • A Bad Past Experience: In some cases, a competitor gave your customer horrible service or botched a project, leaving the customer with a bad impression of your entire profession. Yikes! In their head, you share a bit of the blame. 

While we don’t recommend directly asking your customers, “Hey, why are you so grumpy?” you can sometimes tease out the cause of their ire. If you can’t politely figure out, just assume they have a good reason for their anger. Just remain composed yourself and remember the shade has little to do with you. 

Scary Customer Tips and Tricks

Now for the real work—calming a customer down or massaging the situation enough to improve your own interactions with them. 

  • Make no promises. It seems counter-intuitive, but you don’t want to promise you’ll fix their problems. You might not be able to! The problem may be something completely outside your control, or they may simply be unhappy because your service isn’t free. You can’t solve either of these problems, so don’t claim that you can. 
  • Instead, empathize. Repeat back in your own words what they said. Or, use some of their own words to repeat it back, adding, “Is that correct?” or “Do I understand that correctly?” They’ll feel like they were listened to, which may in and of itself calm them down. 
  • Understand the problem. What’s the core problem here? You may need to ask your customer directly. Try to understand the heart of their anger. 
  • Calm YOURSELF down. You don’t want your own fears or perceptions to cloud your judgement in this situation. Do what you can, quickly, to bring yourself into a calm state of mind so you can focus on the problem instead of merely reacting to what your customer says. 
  • Break the problem down into pieces. For big problems, it helps to break things down into smaller chunks that  your customer can understand. Through that lens, you can manage the problem by tackling each part of the challenge separately. 
  • Reframe the problem as an opportunity. Many problems can transform into opportunities with the right approach. Position your service as the inevitable kick in the butt the customer needed to pull the trigger on solving a bigger home issue. 
  • Whatever you do, don’t blame. Don’t blame your own company or your customer, and don’t accept blame without investigating the problem. In certain cases, legal ramifications exist to accepting or assigning blame. Just avoid it if you can. 

Scary Customers In Writing, Emails, Review Sites, Or Social Media

Sometimes, you don’t stand face-to-face with a scary customer. Consider yourself lucky! In these cases you have time and the means to present a professional demeanor without worrying so much about what your customer sees. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Remain Calm: Calm yourself down. If any of the face-to-face tips from above apply, use them. 
  • Don’t React: Rather than reacting to what your customer said or posted, take time to think about it. Don’t post an angry response. 
  • Follow The 24 Hour Rule: Wait at least a day before responding in writing or on social media to an angry customer. This helps you gain perspective and a respectful distance from what they said. 
  • Share Before You Send: Share your response with a coworker and have them read it before you send it off, if you want a second opinion on how it reads. 

Good luck! With some basic calming techniques and a little preparation, you can ease your conversations and improve your interactions with customers.