The 4 Types of Nightmare Customers Your Support Staff Needs to Know About

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time working in customer support knows that certain personality types tend to repeatedly pop up – and they’re not always pleasant ones to deal with!

When you’re dealing with people at scale, you soon become attuned to particularly difficult customer archetypes that you’ll encounter time and time again. You also quickly learn standard ways of professionally dealing with them without getting flustered. Half the battle, in fact, is being able to spot these potentially troublesome encounters as speedily as possible straight out of the gate.

In this piece, we’ll step through four types of tricky customers your staff will have to learn how to handle sooner rather than later, and provide some tips for staying sane while doing so.

Let’s kick things off at the relatively innocuous end of the spectrum.

1. Clueless Colin

Clueless Colin isn’t really a nightmare per se, but he can certainly be a trial. Regardless of what particular niche you’re in, Colin is going to make up a significant proportion of your customer support interactions. He’s simply trying to get the damn thing to actually work, and has hit the limits of his understanding and abilities.

We should maybe offer a partial defense of Colin here. The modern online world can be a pretty baffling place at times. The reality is that most people simply don’t have the time or inclination to master all of its intricacies (nor, in many cases, should they be expected to).

Use Clueless Colin as a problem finding machine.
Use Clueless Colin as a problem finding machine.

A key part of providing world-class customer support is being able to parse your customer’s level of overall understanding as quickly as possible. With Colin, you should be prepared to start at the very beginning, stay patient, and walk things through in depth.

The Colins of this world are actually a boon in terms of ongoing product development. You can think of them as a canary in your particular coal mine. Every issue they raise is a point in your product or service provision where you just weren’t clear enough to begin with. Focus on keeping Colin happy and you’ll find yourself reliably knocking it out of the park for a much wider range of customers.

2. Passive-Aggressive Pam

Pam represents a very particular type of challenge for your customer support team. It’s often easier to deal with flat-out hostility than it is with needling negativity and a stream of snide comments.

Relentless positivity is pretty much the only way to get through these types of interactions. Even the slightest slip in this regard will simply confirm the worldview of the overall mindset you’re up against. To put it another way, don’t let yourself be trolled.

Be careful as you progress through issues with this type of customer, however. You’ll often find that a series of wider problems are somehow implied or dangled in front of you, without ever being concretely articulated. Make sure you’re resolutely focusing on the actual issue at hand, rather than getting dragged into largely imaginary bushes.

3. Expert Ernie

Expert Ernie arrives into the situation firmly convinced of all of the following:

  1. He is dealing with idiots across the board.
  2. He bears absolutely no responsibility for whatever the problem happens to be.
  3. Using his considerable technical expertise, he could easily solve this problem himself, if he was only empowered to.

As with our previous archetypes, early detection is the key here. Ernie is virtually guaranteed to bristle if you attempt to walk him through standard problem-solving scenarios in the wrong way.

You’ll need to frame your responses in such a way that you can quickly troubleshoot, while still slightly pandering to his ego. The plus point of dealing with a stream of Ernies from an operational perspective is that they are excellent at unearthing edge cases and holes in your existing documentation. Feel free to lean from them in that regard.

4. Angry Eddie

Though our previous characters each pose their own issues, none of them should really trip up an experienced customer support professional too badly. Angry Eddie presents a very different problem, however. Your staff may actually need to make a call on whether to terminate the support encounter altogether.

A brief peek into the vivid interior emotional landscape of Angry Eddie

Though a certain level of anger is understandable in many support interactions, your team should have hard lines in place dictating what they’re prepared to tolerate. The minute things tip over into actual abuse or threats (a surprisingly common occurrence), you should feel no qualms about telling Eddie his behavior is unacceptable, and closing things down.

As the business owner, it’s very much your job to set the tone here and make it clear that you’ve always got your employees’ back. They should feel extremely confident in making a strong call when things become unpleasant.

Conclusion

Once you’re up and running with a solid offering and carefully thought out documentation, the vast majority of your customer support interactions should be pleasant affairs for all involved.

There will always be occasions where things are less than rosy, however. Hopefully our quick guide above will help you spot some of these well in advance and take appropriate steps.

Let’s review our potentially problematic people one more time:

  1. Clueless Colin: Proceed with patience and persistence with this one.
  2. Passive-aggressive Pam: A relentlessly sunny disposition is your secret weapon here.
  3. Expert Ernie: Take a little time to massage egos and your overall experience will be a lot easier.
  4. Angry Eddie: Don’t be afraid to take a hard line if the going gets rough with this one.

Are there any particularly troublesome personalities you tend to bump into? Get in touch via the comments and share your strategies for handling them!

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