How to Manage a Difficult Customer at Your Water Lab

Every business faces a dissatisfied or difficult customer at one time or another. As a lab manager, you have to remain levelheaded despite the challenging situation. Remember that dealing with a disgruntled customer is also an opportunity to demonstrate your lab's professionalism and flex your customer service skills.

Strategies for Handling a Difficult Customer

If a customer is rude or angry, don't take it personally. Forbes suggests remembering that the customer is displeased with the performance of your product or the quality of the service — not you.

Use your best listening skills and let your customer vent, as it will give them a chance to cool down while you demonstrate your professionalism. Show them that you respect them, appreciate their business, and want to make things better. Apologize gracefully and shift the focus away from the problem and toward finding a solution.

Additionally, you'll want to have best practices in place to handle the most common complaints in water testing. Here are three you can safely expect to come your way, and how you can diffuse each of these situations with poise and professionalism.

1. The Price Is Too High

Customers might experience sticker shock, especially if they're using a testing service for the first time or if they see prices increase. Start by listening to the customer and asking a few questions to get to the root of their concern. These can include:

  • Did the service or product fall short of your expectations? If so, can you explain why?
  • Have your business needs changed?
  • Is your financial situation different now?
  • Were there any unexpected fees on your final bill?

Your response should be catered to their specific issue and relay any viable solutions. For example, if a slightly pricier test option can get much quicker results, it could be perceived as a bargain. If your customer pushes back on prices, consider if there are any easy add-ons that you could provide to increase the value to your client without compromising your bottom line.

Take accountability for any rightful errors, but don't apologize for your prices. If a customer believes your prices are too high, it's a sign that they don't understand the value of the product or service that you provide. To prevent future pricing issues, be sure to manage their expectations and take time to explain the value that your services provide to their business.

2. The Test Results Aren't as Expected

If you get negative feedback about your testing services, there are several steps you can take to make the best of this difficult situation. But first things first, give yourself time to breathe so that you don't respond with an angry tone. Don't take too much time, though, as you should respond within a business day.

If someone leaves you a bad review online, you should respond publicly so that others can see your lab's dedication to customer service. Avoid the temptation to be defensive or blame the customer — even if the problem is user error. Instead, focus on providing a solution, such as a refund, a free replacement test, or reduced fees on their next bill.

If you're receiving recurring complaints about the same test, run through your standard operating procedures yourself and check inventory for expired supplies. Alternatively, your lab technician might have properly administered the test but the client misunderstood the results. That's why it's critical to know how to deliver touchy test results effectively and explain the meaning of those results.

3. The Lab Has Bad Customer Service

As a lab manager, you interact with many different personalities, from staff members to customers. If you get a customer service complaint from a habitually difficult customer, take it in stride. Of course, even your best employees might have a bad day, so try to get both sides of the story.

Call the customer and offer an immediate apology. Then, ask them to elaborate on their complaint so that you have all the information you need to resolve it. Assure the customer that you understand their perspective and are confident the problem won't happen again.

If they're complaining about a particular staff member, speak to the employee privately to let them know about the complaint and provide constructive feedback, such as suggesting ways they can handle similar situations in the future.

Getting Back on Track After Customer Complaints

Always keep track of customer complaints, even if it's just in a simple spreadsheet where you list the criticism in one column, your response in the next column, and the outcome in a third column. That way, you can identify any repeat problems and replicate any successful strategies.

Keep in mind that sometimes customers complain about a problem that you can't solve because they just want you to listen and empathize. These interactions can help build lasting relationships with clients, so you'll want to make time for these discussions, too.

Lastly, take a few minutes on your own to decompress by taking a walk outside or going on a coffee break. Dealing with a difficult customer can zap your energy and distract you from bigger business goals. Make an effort to let go of that stressful moment so you can get back to what you do best — running your lab as effectively as possible.


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Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.
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