Ever encounter a difficult client who thought he could do a better job than you? You know, someone who was frustrated because he believed he knew more than you did – or could resolve his problem more effectively than you?

It’s a tough spot to be in. On the one hand, in situations like these you want to deliver great service by:

  1. allowing him to vent;
  2. apologizing for the situation;
  3. listening actively and probing to be sure you fully understand the root cause of the problem;
  4. evaluating his suggestions to see if some of them truly have merit;
  5. developing a solution that works for all parties involved.

But on the other hand, sometimes these steps are not enough to appease a pushy “know-it-all.” When you’ve covered the basics (acknowledging, apologizing, listening, proposing solutions) and a staffing client is still frustrated – what’s your best option?

Recently, customer service guru Shep Hyken broached this very topic in his blog. I loved his advice, so I wanted to share it with you. Here’s how he recommends neutralizing this type of tough customer:

Turn the Tables to Turn a Tough Customer Around

According to Shep, the best way to deal with a client who thinks he can do your job better is by reversing roles. In other words, invite the customer to wear your shoes for a moment by asking a question like this:

“[Name], I’d like you to help me understand what you feel a reasonable solution to this problem might be. Imagine, for a minute, that our roles were reversed. If you were the [insert your job title] and I was a client with your issue, how would you recommend we resolve this problem?”

Obviously, this role-reversal tactic shouldn’t be your first line of defense; it should only be used as a last resort, if your customer-service best-practices haven’t worked. But when your attempts at delivering shareworthy service are repeatedly failing, this technique can be amazingly effective, because:

  • It immediately neutralizes someone who wants to argue for the sake of arguing – and shifts the focus to resolving the issue.
  • It eliminates a “you versus me” mentality which can block conflict resolution.
  • It places the responsibility for proposing solutions on the customer’s shoulders.

The next time you’re dealing with a tough customer who doesn’t respond to your shareworthy service practices, try turning the tables on him – and let me know how Shep’s technique works for you!

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