Freshworks Academy

How to have difficult conversations with customers

Written by on April 16, 2019

Freshworks Academy has a community of pretty awesome people from multiple facets of work. This is evident in the varied points of view that our members bring to light during discussions. Once a fortnight, we bring together members of the community for discussions called Coffee Chat, to talk about anything and everything related to customer experience. 
This one deals with how you can have difficult conversations with customers.

Keeping your customers happy can often be a difficult task.

Having conversations where you deliver news that isn’t happy can end up being complicated and messy. You will have to think of how your customers can be made happy even after you make a mistake and think of how you can retain those customers.

Another point you should keep in mind is the mindset of an agent after they mess up, and what they take away from the entire experience. Messing up could mean multiple things: You could be late on a deadline, or you might not be able to deliver exactly what was asked for. When an agent has to inform a customer of any such incident, it is difficult because there would be unhappiness on both ends of the line. On the customer’s side there might be resentment, disappointment, or even anger. And the agent might also be feeling bad about not being able to meet the commitment. The worst outcome is not only losing the customer, but also losing prospective ones if your customer decides to vent their frustration in public.

So how do you go about handling such a conversation? Here are the highlights of what our community believes:

How can you inform a customer that you won’t be able to meet their targets?

Telling someone that you won’t be able to live up to their expectations is hard, especially when it was agreed upon beforehand that you would do a certain amount of work in a certain duration. So how do you go about doing that? The best thing to do is to be honest and straightforward about why the task won’t be completed. The candidness might ensure that your customer gives you another opportunity to prove yourself.

Here are some pointers from the community:

  1. Honesty is of paramount importance – be transparent about where you went wrong.
  2. Bad news should be delivered as soon as possible. Proactiveness is essential while making an apology.
  3. Provide an alternative workaround while you explain the reasons for not hitting the goal, and explain how you are going to be different this time.
  4. Keep in touch with your customers constantly.
  5. Treat your customers like they’re humans, not numbers. Owning up and taking responsibility is the best thing to do.

How can you say ‘no’ to your customer, or tell them that they are incorrect?

It’s often awkward saying no to someone, and if done in the wrong way, it can alienate your customers. Something even more harrowing would be having to tell them that they are wrong. However, on some occasions, you have no choice but to do so.

Attempt to clarify the customer’s errors politely or tell them why they are in the wrong, in a manner where you try and fix the issue together. This can keep you from appearing to be condescending.

In cases where they ask for something that you don’t plan to implement, like some product feature, don’t give your customer false hope by saying you will think about it. Instead, thank them for their ideas and tell them clearly that it is not in your roadmap. Also, keep your cool and treat every customer with the same degree of importance.

Here are a few things to keep in mind while you go about the process:

  1. Ensure you understand what you want to achieve with your product or service and what your ultimate goal for the product is. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish, and if your customer’s suggestion fits in the way to the goal. If it doesn’t, make sure you let them know politely! Empathy plus honesty is the best combination for dealing with such cases.
  2. Provide premium information to your customers while saying no to showcase your good intentions. If you are, for instance, asked to add a feature you think is interesting but is also not needed at the time, you can tell your customer what plans you do have in the pipeline.
  3. Let them know you’d like to help, but it’s just not possible do to so in the current scenario.
  4. Understand their issue and see if you can come up with a workaround for it.
  5. Use positive language. Say things like “that does sound useful but we don’t have plans to add it in the near future.”
  6. Say no and shift your focus to how you can help them instead of leaving it on that unpleasant note.

How can you make sure you retain their loyalty even after you have messed up?

Everybody messes up. The difference lies in how you deal with your mistakes. The right actions can help prevent the problem from blowing up massively. Of course, whether your customers decide to work with you or not afterward is completely in their hands. All you can do is be honest and upfront with them, and maintain constant communication with them. If you do your job well, most of them will be willing to give you another shot.

Keep these in mind:

  1. Never take your customer for granted, and make them realize the value they hold for you. Keep validating their reason for choosing you over the others.
  2. Winning their trust back is essential. Take steps to prove your sincerity to them. Make your explanations as honest, personal, and detailed as possible.
  3. Set and manage your expectations in a way that you can meet them. Even if you mess up the first time, ensure you get it right the second time so that you can re-establish trust with your customers.
  4. Identify where you went wrong, tell your customer what you have done or are doing to fix it, and how you plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
  5. If possible, you should present the plan to your customer in person, or a personal phone call or chat session.
  6. Getting feedback is of great importance. You can hear from your customers about what they think you could have done better, and you can take this into consideration for the future.

How do you keep your team’s morale high after or during stressful conversations?

After a difficult conversation, especially one which may have had an unhappy resolution, you, your team, or the employee who was involved may be feeling terrible. This can affect future performance as well as the person’s mindset, and you need to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Here are a few tips to help keep you and your team positive through ups and downs:

  1. Share your thoughts with your teammates when you are feeling upset. You can also grab a coffee with someone outside the team and talk the situation through.
  2. Be aware of your team and their lives, at least the basics, such as if their personal life is very stressful.
  3. Make sure that you or your team members don’t castigate themselves when things go wrong. Mistakes happen – analyze what went wrong and resolve to improve the situation rather than indulge in beating yourself up.
  4. Employee experience drives customer experience, so take care of your employees and provide them with a supportive environment.
  5. Try taking a short break when you feel stressed and go on a walk before tackling the situation again.


We hope that these ideas and thoughts will help you deal with your customers. Let us know if you have any comments or suggestions to add on to the ones above.

Want to be a part of awesome discussions like this? Join the Freshworks Academy today –you’ll gain access to our community as well, plus quality courses and content – for free! Join us today!

Kaavya Karthikeyan

Binge reader. Gaming addict. Coffee connoisseur. Feminist. Jedi Master in the Freshworks Academy team.