In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to handle working with customers who are dissatisfied and escalate dissatisfaction into abuse. They give you advice as to what you should do and the best attitude to have when facing such a difficult and challenging situation.  

Angry customers can erupt with abusive behaviour and become acutely confrontational. ‘The customer is always right’ doesn’t mean that you have to take everything they send your way nor do you have to give them everything they ask for.

‘The customer is always right’ is something that we have all heard and try to abide by in an attempt to give fantastic customer service. But setting boundaries and learning to respect each other in the transaction of daily life and business is a much healthier approach.

Tune into this week’s episode of The Startup Chat to learn how to set your boundaries and communicate them precisely so that those valuable customers that you would like to retain don’t cross the line and make your life miserable. Also get Steli and Hiten’s top tips for the mindset to support these challenging situations.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:27  Defining the context of abusive customers.

00:50 The mindset of dealing with challenging customers.

02:59 The social dynamics of Aggressive behaviour.

05:40 The distinction of challenging customers.

07:01 Firing Customers for the well being of the company.

07:40 How does self-respect help manage challenging situations?.

08:15 What rules do you have for relationships in your life and business?.

08:55 Why Customers get Angry.

19:43 The standards that we set for managing connections.  

10:10 Steli and Hiten’s top tips.

3 Key Points:

  • Don’t trigger them and don’t get triggered yourself.
  • Respond from a place where you don’t get sucked into their emotional turmoil.
  • Customers are usually angry and mad because they are not satisfied yet.



Steli Efti: Everybody this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. And what we’re gonna talk about today is how to deal with abusive customers. Which is kind of the extreme version of it. But basically a customer that just is not treating you or your team well when you’re talking to them, responding to them, et cetera. But they are a customer meaning they paid you. Is that kind of the context you have?



Steli Efti: Yeah they are a customer, maybe, I mean, maybe they want to be a customer right? So they are an abusive prospect maybe.



Hiten Shah: Sure, prospect. Yeah. Sure.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Okay. So, I’ll start with the first thought I have on that. I have seen more what we would label as abusive or you know, not so great customers, back off and even flip their opinion, become the opposite of that just by hearing them out, not reacting, not thinking that they’re are being abusive, instead just being like, “Okay, well you know, I hear you.” You know, it’s like dealing, honestly I put my, for lack of a better word, I put my parent hat on and I treat them like a child.



Steli Efti: Mm-hmm (affirmative).



Hiten Shah: And what I mean by that is, I realize that something might be going on, they might be emotional, feelings are usually involved when people get abusive or mean, or nasty, you know, which is totally cool. I don’t apologize though. I’m not a fan of saying sorry unless I really have to because that’s admitting I did something wrong. Most of the time when a customer’s abusive or something like that, you didn’t do anything wrong. And so then I just hear them out like, “Okay. Please tell me more. What’s making you feel like this?” And literally that’s a child, to me. Put the parent hat on, how would I, how would I, how would I deal with this if this were my child, and I was in my best mood possible? I would be balanced, I would hear them out. And I would do my best to make them happy, but I would not say sorry. You know? And I would not dig in to their abuse, I would not, I would not like trigger them more, you get what I mean?



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: That’s the key, and I would also not be reactive. I think that’s the number one key, what I see people do the most with customers, clients, any kind of abusiveness, you know, I love that that word is what we’re using here, but anything where you feel like the client or customer is being negative, don’t trigger them. Don’t get triggered yourself, and these situations tend to work out just fine. And you learn a lot.



Steli Efti: I love that. What I refer to this is usually, friendly strength. Like being a good parent or good doctor.



Hiten Shah: I like that.



Steli Efti: Right? So you, one of the biggest challenges is that just, social dynamics will dictate most of the time that when somebody, when I call somebody abusive it means that they are very aggressive. Right? Aggressive means usually that they come from a place of strength, right? It might be hostile strength-



Hiten Shah: Yeah.



Steli Efti: … Not sort of friendly strength. And what I’ll, the social dynamics often times will dictate that if somebody’s strong even if they’re hostile, you’re gonna act weak. Which is what you’re referring to is like apologizing. Right? Just because a prospect or a customer is angry and screaming at you, doesn’t mean that you have to apologize or act in a weak manner like basically caving in, telling them they’re right, I’m sorry, and then trying to cater to it all and any of their demands just because they’re a customer or prospect, just because they’re angry. Like if you haven’t done anything wrong, or if what they’re demanding isn’t reasonable, you should not act apologetic about it or give them what they want. Now there is an opposite reaction to that, most people will just cave in and be weak when somebody is hostile and strong. But there’s an opposite end to that, which is some people will be hostile and strong back to somebody that’s hostile and strong to them right? So you are an angry customer prospect, you’re screaming at me, they’re gonna start screaming back. Right? They’re gonna start getting angry and abusive back to the customer. That’s dumb as well, right? That’s not the right way, just like in your great parent example, if your child is hungry or tired or somewhat out of balance and start screaming at you, you should not scream back at the child, start argue with the child at an eye to eye level. That’s not good parenting, right? The perfect model is what you said, the friendly strength, the one where you want them to succeed, you want the best for them, you are though coming from a place of strength, confident, authority, and just because they scream at you and just because they act as if you are beneath them or as if you have to serve them doesn’t mean that you have to scoop to that level or cave into that dynamic. You know, you’re the parent, you’re gonna try to help them, you’re gonna try to lead them to the right solution but from a place of calm, quiet, happy, and from a place where you don’t get sucked into their emotional turmoil.



Hiten Shah: That’s right. That’s the key, there’s an energy there right? When someone’s being hostile like that. And the key is not to let that come onto you and react and get triggered. Instead, take a step back, understand where it’s coming from. This is why the kids analogy is really good.



Steli Efti: I think also, there is a distinction though that I would make between customers and prospects that are, let’s just say, unreasonable in the moment, or maybe too emotional right? Somebody can be really angry at me and I’m reasonable and I would not label them as an abusive customer. I would just say they are out of balance right now. So those are people that in general are pretty reasonable but just in the moment overreact to something, or are overly led by their emotions, or are impulsive and so they’ll demand something or they’ll get angry or they’ll want something that’s not fair or reasonable or long term. But they were just caught in emotions. But there is a, and that’s probably the majority of people. There is a subcategory, a small percentage, of customers that are not just in the moment emotional or angry or something, they are truly abusive. They will never get better. The way they are thinking, the way are going through life is one way, they’re gonna try to get as much from you as they can bully out of you. And I think it’s important to recognize the difference and to have a, I’m gonna try to help you be a better, I’m gonna try to help you and love you and guide you to the right solution, for the majority of prospects and customers. But when somebody is abusive I have a no tolerance policy towards that, just like the no asshole rule in terms of hiring and adding people to your culture and your team and company. There should be a no asshole rule, in my mind, when it comes to customers. When it’s truly abusive, right, when it’s somebody that is unreasonable and is gonna lie to you to get things. Or is gonna demand a relationship that long term will just be bad for you. I think that it’s important to realize and give yourself the permission as a company and as sales people and as founders, to not enter that relationship. I truly believe if the relationship in the beginning starts abusive it’s just gonna get worse over time.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. You have to just set, you have to set your sort of standards and your expectations. I think, you know one important thing before we graft this or not, is like it’s so important to respect yourself.



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: Right? It’s so important to set you know, the word that came into my head I just said it is like, set the standard. So what’s your standard for your customers? How do you want them to treat you? And when they don’t treat you like that, what do you do about it? Because look, we’re all in a services business. We’re all of service to whoever’s paying us money, whoever is using our products, whoever is doing you know, interacting with our businesses including our team members. And so I think like when you create policies and rules around how you treat different types of customers, in different ways, not based on how much they pay or anything of that, that’s all standard and a lot of people do it, but more importantly, on how they treat you. What type of customer are they? You can switch that. You have to just understand and be conscious of what level is this customer at right now with us? And that’s where all the things like customer satisfaction and all that kind of sort of a thing, comes from. It isn’t just about just gaging the satisfaction overall or an aggregate of your customer base, it’s about understanding where each individual customer is at. With the idea of moving them up that ladder. Because their usually angry or mad at you, because they’re just not satisfied yet. Or they were satisfied and then something bad happened. And it’s funny, right when we’re talking right now, I have a text from a customer who is apologetic for bugging me. You know? And I’m like, I’m listening to you, I’m like this is ironic. This customer is lovely, she’s a friend of mine and she’s like, “I just can’t live without this, this thing is fucked up right now.” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah. I know.” Like it’s gonna be fixed right now, I’m sorry, I don’t know when it’ll get fixed. I said I’m sorry because she’s a friend and she’s coming in, and you know, I broke my rule because she’s coming in and being sorry to me. And I’m like, “No. No. No. I am sorry.” This is fucked right? But it’s just funny, it’s like, I think there’s levels right? So yes I will, you know just to point this out, I have standards. Like if someone’s feeling bad about bothering me, I have to make sure they don’t feel bad about that. Right?



Steli Efti: Yeah.



Hiten Shah: So that’s why I will say sorry in that situation, because I don’t need them to feel sorry for telling me my shits fucked up. You know? I need them to tell me every time in case I don’t know. But like it’s funny, right? We set such, we set such weird standards for this stuff, you know? And we don’t know we’re setting them. So to me is just boils down to you want to fix this problem, you’re dealing with this, your company doesn’t understand how to deal with this angry customer or someone being aggressive or abusive, set some standards on how you want to be treated and then treat them like that too. That’s what it boils down to.



Steli Efti: I love it. All right. That’s it. That’s what we’re wrapping up with for today’s episode, Set the Standards. And it doesn’t matter, sometimes people just think because it’s a customer or prospect, somebody that could give me money, I should just allow anything and everything to happen, and they can always dictate the direction of every conversation, the tone or how they want to deal with me and that’s just not true. Set high standards on how well you treat your customers and prospects, but demand high standards back. And that’s gonna lead to a stronger brand, better relationships and at the end, to more revenue, more growth and more success for you. You won’t believe it but it’s true.



Hiten Shah: Yeah. See ya.



Steli Efti: Bye bye.