Problematic customer or psychopath?
How to Deal with a Problematic Customer
You will have a problematic customer from time to time. It is part of owning a cleaning service. Furthermore, there is a wide range of personalities who hire house cleaners. And sooner or later, a high maintenance, difficult or problematic person is going to hire you.
Let’s look at red flag behaviors that problematic customers exhibit. Then we’ll cover ways to manage them.
Definition of a Problematic Customer: A Bully
A bully is a person who intimidates you through words, emotions, actions and threats. This will be our problematic customer. They will use tactics like impatience, intimidation, anger, and superiority to control you.
A high maintenance customer is a person who expects a lot. I’m talking about a lot of attention, a lot of quality, a lot of savings, and a lot of services. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And if you recognize a high maintenance client early, you can create proper boundaries. In fact, these customers will be among your best.
A difficult customer is a person who expects a lot but doesn’t have the proper skills to say what they expect. They use various tactics to get what they want. They may be indecisive or even resort to complaining. It’s possible that they hate confrontation and will never tell you what they need. They will just expect you to read their mind and provide the service they hope for. As you can imagine, clients like this are difficult because you’re playing a never ending guessing game – with no winners.
Determine the Type of Customer You Want
So what type of clients do you want? Only nice ones of course. LOL. I hear you. That’s not reality though and whether you like it or not, you will get all types. The key is to know what you’re dealing with.
One of the first jobs I ever had was in a barter exchange. People traded services instead of buying them with cash. My job came with a problematic customer named Santi. He was a control freak in every sense of the word. Seems like he called three or four times a day to check on progress updates we didn’t have.
He talked in tones that were misunderstood as shouting, and if that’s not enough, he cussed me out on every call.
He used guilt and manipulation to get his requests bumped to the top of our “to-do” list.
When you provided Santi with amazing customer service, he just complained. Nothing for Santi was ever good enough, soon enough, or cheap enough, well you get the idea.
If you met Santi on the street – you would think he was the most charming and charismatic person, but he wasn’t. I hated Santi. As you might guess, caller ID became my best friend, and when Santi called I braced myself for the worst.
Having a problematic customer like Santi will give you thick skin. Thick skin and being able to listen to criticism is essential for house cleaners.
You are the business. When a customer doesn’t like the way you clean something, it’s personal. This is you, your effort and your business. Unless of course, you’re dealing with a bully like Santi.
It’s super important to learn the difference between a high maintenance customer and a bully.
15 Triggers You’re Dealing with a Problematic Customer
1) They Reschedule Your Initial Walkthrough More Than Once
This is a control freak behavior. They are showing you they call the shots with your schedule.
2) They Ask “How Fast Can You Clean the House?”
It’s common for them to thrive on unrealistic expectations.
3) They Ask for Help Unrelated to Cleaning.
Such as pet sitting, watering plants, running errands, picking up kids from school etc. They want to see where your boundaries are, and can they push you around?
4) They Tell You They Are Shopping Around.
This is an intimidation tactic to get you to lower your price, or toss in bonuses they don’t deserve.
5) They Ask You to Match Another Cleaning Companies Price.
This is a manipulation technique that lets them be in control of the pricing.
6) They Micromanage the Way You Clean.
This is a form of superiority – as if to say “your way of cleaning isn’t good enough”.
7) They Chat the Entire Time You Clean.
This is emotional manipulation. “I’m lonely and you owe me a chat. Or another version of, I’m so important you need to listen to me.”
8) They Become The Client Who Doesn’t Pay.
This is control, “I will pay you when I want to pay you” – not when you’ve earned it.
9) They Don’t Want to Deal with You the Employee.
They only want to talk to your manager or owner. This is superiority. “The house cleaner is not capable of understanding and executing my requests, so I must speak the big boss.”
10) They Want You to Use Special Cleaning Products That They Choose, but Want You to Pay For.
This is superiority and manipulation. “I don’t want the green – non-toxic detergents you offer everyone else; I want something special. And you will provide it to me at your cost if you want my business.”
11) They Leave New “To Do” Lists for You in Addition to Your Regular Routine Cleaning.
And they expect to pay nothing extra for these chores. This is superiority. “I am important and get to make special requests because you’re just the hired help. Not my problem if you have another job after this one. I come first.”
12) They Have Impossible Deadlines for You to Complete the Cleaning.
This may be a house cleaning emergency that is not on your schedule. Suppose they are hosting a company party tomorrow and can you come today to get the house ready? – This is manipulation through guilt. “If you’re as good as you think you are; you’ll make it happen. Or, you’re the boss, don’t you have control over your own schedule?”
13) They Complain About Your Work.
This is belittling and intended to intimidate. It’s also a control freak move. They want you to re-do all your work because “It’s just not good enough.”
14) They Complain About Their Work, Family, Life, Health Etc.
This is emotional manipulation, intended for you to feel bad for them. Give them something for nothing, and then throw in something extra, something special.
15) They Have a past History of Suing Past Contractors and Vendors.
This is a control method through threats. “Give me what I want, or I’ll sue you, and your company – and then you’ll lose your job.”
Offering Excellent Customer Service
Do you have rules for your customer service? Do you offer a 100% money back guarantee? Is it a no questions asked policy?
You know customer service is what differentiates you from your rivals. If you want to survive in business today you need to provide excellent customer service. Period.
We live in a social media society, this means people will rave, rate, review and refer you to their friends. You hope people talk about you. It’s cool for people to post pictures of their homes you’ve cleaned on Facebook and Pinterest. You want people to love you and the work you do. And you want their friends to hire you.
So from here on out, for all types of customers – get rid of the no questions asked policy. If someone wants a refund, you need to know why. How are you expected to fix what went wrong if you don’t know why?
Customer Service for Difficult Customers
When you are dealing with a difficult customer – you have to be patient and kind. Most of the time they don’t know how to communicate. They are afraid of confrontation and they need your understanding. Be gentle. Empathize. Make concessions. You’re not great at reading minds so make it safe for them to express what they need. It’s okay to question their client satisfaction. Then fight like heck to correct the situation and keep their business.
Customer Service for High Maintenance Customers
The high maintenance customer expects a lot. A lot of attention, a lot of quality, a lot of savings, a lot of services.
You’re going to have to set boundaries up front with a high maintenance customer. Let them know how far they can push you. Set realistic expectations. Agree to terms of what “a lot” means.
You may need to text them before you arrive. Do they need you to text them with photos of the home when you finish cleaning? Do they need to know six months in advance that you’re raising your prices? High maintenance customers, for the most part, don’t like surprises.
Make sure you keep them in the loop about all changes, and you’ll find they are quite easy to manage. The cool part is this, if you can please a high maintenance customer, they will be your best source for referrals.
Customer Service for Problematic Customers
Brace yourself. If you’ve gone through all the steps for a difficult and a high maintenance customer it’s time to tune in. Ask yourself; what is different about this situation? Does the client need to hear herself vent? Are her concerns valid? Can you fix this kind of problem or is she just being nit-picky and manipulative?
WAIT! It’s easy to shut these people up by rushing to fix their problem. But before you do, let them vent. Sometimes, all they need is for you to listen to what they have to say.
Disengage. First of all, this means to listen in neutral mode. Don’t bring your emotions to this conversation. When you plug into a problematic customer their drama becomes your drama. Tune in, and pay attention, be on high alert – but don’t engage. Don’t argue and don’t defend yourself. Don’t let this angry customer push your buttons.
This is a tactic that works well with difficult or angry customers. It also works well on bratty teenagers, stubborn spouses, and screaming bosses. Try it, you’ll thank me later.
Here’s how to do it:
The Five I Heard You’s
Have great eye contact.
Have excellent and open posture and body language.
Use The Five I Heard You’s – these are neutral comments that say “I heard you.” And at the same time, you are not agreeing or disagreeing – you are listening.
They are these:
- “How about that.”
- “Isn’t that something?”
- “What do you know?”
- “That’s fascinating” or “That’s interesting.”
The Five I Heard You’s will keep you in the conversation without engaging. Furthermore, you can cycle through them as many times as it takes to diffuse the anger.
Remember the problematic customer is always right – at least they think they are. And they like to be in control. So ask them, “how do you want to solve this problem?” Let them give you the solution. And while your solution may be exactly the same as the customer, it will never be good enough. So let them think it’s their idea.
Is the resolution reasonable?
If the answer is reasonable – make sure you agree to terms before you solve the problem. Say something like this: “Here’s what I’m prepared to do”. Explain exactly what you will do to fix the situation this one time only. Most of all, don’t offer anything illegal or against company policy. “Here is what I will do to ensure we never have this problem again. If I do what I’ve just promised you, will this fix your problem?”
If you don’t get a resolution agreement up front, your repair or re-do will not be good enough. I promise you, they will keep complaining. It’s a vicious cycle of manipulation, control, and defeat.
Take Control of Your Problematic Customer
This person may try to go above your head and talk to the higher ups. Don’t let that happen. They may get you fired, just to show you who is in charge. This is your company; you are in control. Take control of your problematic customer. Use phrases like: “The resolve stops here. Once you move this issue to my supervisors, I can’t guarantee the outcome. There is one person right now, who understands your situation with clarity, and it’s me. I’m the best person to fix your problem. Here’s what I’m prepared to do today…” Go back over your resolve and get them to agree to it.
If you have a boss, they will not fault you for fixing problems on the spot. They will promote you for taking responsibility for customer service. The person who can solve the problems of the problematic customer becomes the boss.
How to Keep a Problematic Customer from Zapping Your Positive Attitude
Problematic customers thrive on chaos. They are only happy when they’ve tossed you off kilter. Don’t let it happen. Stand up straight. Roll your shoulders back and exude great posture. Look them straight in the eye. Be attentive. They are playing a game and they want to win. If you let your guard down, you lose. Displaying a lack of confidence and they will walk all over you. If you don’t have boundaries, they will push you around. Keep your hands to your side, don’t fold them, this shows defensive body language. They are looking for weakness, so don’t show it.
Don’t Tolerate Abuse
Set boundaries and stick to them. “I want to help you, but I won’t have this discussion while you are shouting and cussing at me. Please be civil or our conversation is over.” If they keep shouting and cussing, walk away. Don’t engage, don’t defend your choice. In this moment, you train your customers how much they can abuse you. Don’t tolerate abuse.
If you walk away don’t look back. Don’t beat yourself up, or feel guilty for ending the conversation. This isn’t your fault, and you gave them fair warning. And it doesn’t mean you are going to lose the client. Often the client will respect you for holding your ground – most people won’t stand up to them. This is a new challenge, and they will be back, but polite.
You don’t have to live with a problematic customer, but you do have to live with yourself. Set boundaries and keep your professionalism and attitude in check.
End the Contract If Necessary
A problematic customer can also be a neurotic psychopath. And while you can help a problematic customer; you CANNOT help a neurotic psychopath.
End the contract if necessary.
I had a house cleaning client who was a problematic customer and a neurotic psychopath. She was manipulative, superior, high maintenance, demanding, witchy, and irritable. She lied about the previous house cleaners to me and on social media. Guilt and complaining were her way of communicating. She didn’t respect my time, or pricing schedule and refused to pay for cleaning.
I do offer a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee based on a worksheet of tasks we agree to up front. But, if at the last minute you toss in extra chores and I don’t have time to clean them, I can’t guarantee those. This is all explained in our initial walkthrough because I’m only human and can only do so much. Enter damage control for house cleaners.
And it’s not me. I have 30 clients on a waiting list at any given time – and I don’t need a problematic customer in the mix. “Hey, you know what? I just checked and we’re not a good fit for each other. No charge for today, since you’re not happy, but this is my last cleaning. Thanks for your business.”
You wouldn’t believe that this woman as unhappy as she was, wouldn’t let me go. She begged, guilted and threatened me. Besides that, she insisted on paying me for my cleaning and then gave me a tip. But threatened me if I didn’t come back she would ruin my reputation on social media and NextDoor.
Remember I said walk away and don’t look back. I mean don’t look back. But don’t delete that client from your address book. If three more people from the same phone number call you to come clean – chances are it’s her family members. Noting her in your phone will save you from going out there to bid the job again. Her next door neighbors and the neighbor across the street called. Hoping I would book them for a cleaning slot they could “give to her”. Psychopathic on so many levels.
This is your business. You get to decide who you want to work with. Yes, customers pay your bills and they can be a blessing in your life. They can also be a curse. You have a choice – choose the customers who are blessings.
Do you have a problematic customer story? Do tell. 😉
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