No question about it: You can’t please all the people all the time! And because you’re a professional, it’s understandable that your negative experiences with customers are a source of concern for you. Yet customer stress is a leading cause of employee stress in both sales and service! The question is, what can you do to strengthen and protect yourself from stress while satisfying your challenging customers and winning their loyalty?

Although stress takes many forms and comes from many sources, it’s common element is that it begins with a threat to something deemed important, whether that’s meeting a quota, living within a budget, returning a call on time, getting support when you need help, or keeping a promise. And regarding your specific stress response, I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that poorly managed stress can cause headaches, ulcers, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, back pain, stomach problems, insomnia and almost anything else unpleasant that you can think of. Worse yet, stress can create a domino effect in your relationships with others, where one stressful moment leads to another in ever lengthening chains of reaction.

The good news is that stress begins inside of you rather than outside of you, and there are ways to manage it effectively! When your challenge is to deliver exceptional customer service to customers who are caught up in the chains of reaction, you need a method for shifting gears and turning things around, before, during and after the event!

Ahead of Time: Anticipate the inevitable
The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is true! When you put off dealing with a known problem until you have no choice, you force yourself into crisis management mode, which is the most stressful and least effective way to solve problems. Instead, walk yourself through predictable customer scenarios in the privacy of your own mind, and practice dealing constructively with challenging situations. When you prepare yourself ahead of time for the challenges ahead, you reduce the surprise factor and shorten your response time!

At the Time: Replace limiting assumptions with useful ones
Here’s the basic rule: Whatever a person assumes to be true, they will act as if it is true, and then look for proof that they’re right! If the customer thinks something is wrong with the carpet, or that you’ve missed an appointment, or that they’re being overcharged, they start looking for evidence that something is wrong until they find it. Likewise, if you think a customer is unreasonable, you’ll wind up talking and listening to them as if that’s what they are! And if you decide a customer is overly demanding, your reactions will be based on your opinion of overly demanding people.

Even if you could prove that someone is unreasonable, selfish, or even downright nasty, such opinions may only serve to limit your ability to deal effectively with the situation. Limiting opinions tie you up, hold you back, and trap you into self defeating behavior. Useful assumptions help you break the chains of reaction and focus on your mission of providing quality service.

Here are a few examples of limiting assumptions:
“You know how they are! Customers like Dave just want to complain and argue!”
“What is it with some people? Mr. Johnson expects me to do the impossible!”
“Why do customers like her try to make my job difficult?”

Examples of useful assumptions:
“Customers go out of their way to avoid complaining. I guess this must be a serious problem for Dave to let me know about it!”
“Mr. Johnson doesn’t understand our appointment system. I’ll educate him!”
“This customer is feeling overwhelmed. I’ll make things easier for her!”

If you understand this idea, you can replace limiting opinions with useful ones. But if you don’t understand (or you just don’t want to!), then you’ll pay the price by increasing your stress.

After the fact: Recharge and re-energize
Dealing with stressed-out customers does not have to drain your battery! There are numerous ways for you to recharge and reenergize yourself both after the challenge and throughout the day!

1. Take your break, get outside and take a hike! This is a quick way to regain your perspective and put the past behind you, as you channel some of your frustration into positive action! Remember to breathe slowly and evenly to provide needed oxygen to your brain while relaxing pent up muscle tension.

2. Keep your perspective with a Funny First Aid support system! When somebody’s down after a problem with a customer, find a way to help them laugh about it, and ask them to do the same for you.

3. Give yourself the reward of a mental vacation! Keep a postcard or photograph of a place you’ve visited or dreamed of visiting somewhere nearby. Look at it and then close your eyes and imagine going there, letting go and having fun! (Set a timer if you’re concerned that you might not come back!)

4. Review your successes at the end of the day. The good almost always outweighs the bad. And when you help someone and they’ve got that smile on their face, it makes up for the person that came out screaming.

5. Change history! Relax your body, and then mentally revisit the day’s challenges, imagining your responses as you wish they had been. This is rehearsal time for similar challenges in the future, so make the most of it!

Remember that stress begins within you. So follow these simple steps before, during and after your dealings with challenging customers. Then at the end of the day, instead of going home exhausted, you can go home knowing that by keeping your perspective, you gave your customers a reason to keep coming back to keep your business (and your job) in the black.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Rick Kirschner has helped millions improve their communication skills and have better relationships and careers. He is co-author of the classic, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, and co-creator of the all-time bestselling audio and video program, How to Deal with Difficult People. His new book How to Click With People (July 2011) reveals the secret to better relationships in business and in life. For a free one-hour audio on Difficult People, visit: