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Dealing with Difficult Customers

Dealing with customers is an art-form. Here’s how you can be an artist.

Dr. Thommie Burger




The importance of knowing how to deal with difficult customers during the infant years of your new start-up company can’t be overstated. Being equipped with this knowledge and interpersonalskills can assist in ensuring your company’s long-term survival. As cited by Dr David Freemantle, “To create a relationship and therefore a likeable connection with a customer, physical energy is required”.

I would like to introduce you to five customers you have either encountered in the past or will encounter as soon as you open your company’s doors for business.  They are mean!  They are arrogant!  You will require a great deal of physical, mental and emotional energy!  They are your customers! But are they always right?  You decide…

1. Mr Dictatorial Derrick and his girlfriend, Mrs Pompous Priscilla

Derrick and Priscilla are demanding for a number of reasons.  Let’s first take a look at Derrick.  His domineering behaviour is part of his personality.  It may also be his reaction due to a past bad service experience.  Overbearing customers such as Derrick feel the need to be or stay in control and often, such customers are insecure.

How to handle him…

Be professional, don’t raise your voice or fight fire with fire by retaliating verbally.  You are not a child and don’t have to resort to name-calling or shoving matches.  Unfortunately, some adults like Derrick miss their childhood years so much that they regress to childish behaviour.  Demonstrate respect but remain firm and most importantly, calm.  So, even though you may have a vision of lying on a beach somewhere far away like Mauritius where you don’t have to listen to Derrick carrying on and on, aim to work positively towards the resolution of the problem.  Remember to focus on his needs by trying to look past the aggressive behaviour.

Now, let’s take a look at Priscilla.  Unfortunately in life, some people seem to go out of their way to get attention or to be offensive.  She may seem poised and self-assured on the outside, but believe me, she is insecure and defensive.   Priscilla will raise her voice, demand to speak to the manager, use profane language, ignore what you say, attack you personally and like her boyfriend Derrick, go out of her way to be offensive and remain in control.

How to handle her…

If you are anything like me you may want to ask Priscilla whether she forgot to take her “chill pill” this morning.  Fight the urge to say that!  Remain professional and whatever you do, don’t exhibit the same inappropriate behaviour although you may feel the situation warrants it.  Don’t retaliate as you will only pour oil on the fire and embarrass Priscilla, which is the last thing you want.  Remain calm and focus on the problem at hand.  Remember, the reason for her inappropriate behaviour is probably due to some past mediocre service experience she had.  See if you can provide her with an exceptional experience through mending this bad situation.

2. Mrs Chatty Christine

Ever met Christine?  She would phone or meet with you and spend excessive amounts of time discussing immaterial matters such as the grooming of her dog, the weather, her family, her accomplishments, other customer service experiences and what she had for breakfast.

How to handle her…

Refrain from falling into the trap of becoming talkative yourself.  Try to remain warm and amiable but focused.  Appreciate the fact that Christine has an expressive personality and predominantly her natural inclination is to connect with people.  She probably draws her motivation from social encounters and in my opinion, may be the life of the party in less formal social gatherings.  Remain friendly by acknowledging her comments as you continue the conversation to establishing her real needs.  Asking specific open-ended questions and using close-ended questions will assist you in determining her requirements and give the conversation direction.  Remember that she is not your only customer and that your own personal time management is vital.  Keep in mind that you should be diplomatic but to the point.

3. Mr Expectancy Edward

You may know Edward as Uninterested Uma.  They want as little involvement as possible with as little effort on their part… but they expect results.  Both Edward and Uma are uninterested but expect things to get done with very little or no involvement from their side.  They will very seldom provide requested information and will often ask you to complete tasks that are either outside your area of expertise or not within the allowed price they’ve paid.  Edward and Uma’s most favourite excuse is that they don’t have time.  Phrases such as “I paid you for this so I expect it to be done” and “If I knew I had to do all this work myself I wouldn’t have hired you to do it”.

How to handle them…

This is where it gets tricky.  As a service provider, you need to get pushy with Edward and Uma.  Get used to calling and emailing them repeatedly.  Make sure you are transparent about your costs and although you like it not, becoming a nagging supplier is inevitable.  Focus on the facts and explaining the importance of the customer’s involvement in ensuring the success of your service delivery.

4. Mr Know-it-All Newton

Probably one of the most difficult customers to deal with is Newton.  Even though he approached you, he always knows better.  Newton will tell you about his knowledge, experience, accomplishments and why he is the best thing since sliced bread.  He has a very specific idea about what he wants and he has very little interest in your thoughts and your experience as the service provider.  Beware!  Newton has pre-conceived ideas and expectations.  Tread carefully when dealing with Newton because chances are that you will never meet his expectations.

How to handle him…

Some service providers are happy to do exactly what Newton wants no matter what they feel or think of it or whether it is the best thing to do.  If you feel you have an ethical responsibility to point out the pitfalls in Newton’s expectations, you are most probably heading for some degree of conflict.  Newton secretly believes that he could do your job much better and that you have little or no specialist knowledge you can convey.   In some instances, if you agree to do it Newton’s way, he may very well turn around feeling very unhappy about the fact that he had to do all the work himself.  Be very careful to commit to Newton’s expectations and way of doing things.  Be explicit and clear about what you can do, what expertise you can offer and what will be included in the service.  Set the correct expectations before doing the work.  Under promise and over deliver!

5. Mr Wheeler-Dealer Wesley

Wesley doesn’t believe in the price you see is the price you pay.  Phrases like “I’m sure you can sharpen your pencil a bit more,” “how negotiable are you” and “your competitor quoted me 40% less,” is common when dealing with Wesley.  He believes that your first price is just an invitation to start the negotiations.  They like the “buy 1 get 4 free” scenario.  But remember!  If you cut on price you can’t cut on the quality of the service delivery.  Wesley will still expect the same high quality service.

How to handle him…

Firstly, consider the following:

  • Do you want to get involved in price wars?
  • Do you want to be known as the cheapest service provider or rather the service provider with the finest all round service delivery?
  • Can you justify your pricing if you charge a premium for your value-added services and expertise?

The best way to deal with this type of customer is to focus on the facts and reasons for your pricing.  Focus on your sales ability and convincing Wesley that your service has various value added benefits that he won’t find anywhere else.  Never badmouth your competitors by focusing on their flaws and your subjective and/or negative opinion of why they are cheaper.  This is not good business ethics.

Focus on what YOU can offer.  Provide examples and testimonials of past satisfied clients.  Highlight the fact that you offer an exemplary service.  But remember; don’t promise or claim something that you can’t deliver on.  If you fail, Wesley may very well come to haunt you!

Dealing with different customers and different personalities can be very challenging.  But you decide… Is the customer always right? Perhaps not, but saying that to him or her won’t necessarily be the right thing to do.  Your ability to dealing effectively with such conflict and difficult situations will in most cases win you the loyalty of these customers.

Remember, always give your customer quality at the point of contact; in the event of encountering an unhappy customer, use bad experience recovery as your key strategy to turn the situation around to your benefit.  Bad experience recovery is vital!

Founder of JTB Consulting, a leading Business Plan Consultancy that provides practical, unique and affordable Business Consulting and Business Plan Solutions to entrepreneurs, start-up businesses and existing companies. Founder of Animazing, a Marketing Agency that designs unique animated videos; a communication and marketing medium clients use to deliver their messages in an effective, engaging and memorable way. Thommie is a Summa Cum Laude MBA Graduate and holds a PhD in Entrepreneurship and Business Management.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Deidre Tavares

    Feb 29, 2012 at 08:49

    Great article thanks, Ive just dealt with a wheeler-dealer client, wish I read this before I dealt with him. Thank you

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Company Posts

How TomTom Telematics Can Keep Your Business Moving Forward

Successful businesses need to find ways to improve their margins while still delivering excellent and efficient customer service. VDM’s CEO, Deon van der Merwe, explains why this wouldn’t be possible in his business without TomTom Telematics’ solutions.

TomTom Telematics



TomTom telematics

When TomTom Telematics entered the South African market in 2010, the local team took a deep dive into the different industry verticals they were servicing.

The more they got to know their customers, the more they realised a different solution was needed to address local conditions, and a subscription model was introduced whereby customers didn’t need to invest a large capital outlay into TomTom Telematics’ technology, but would receive the tech and software, including installation, at no extra cost, in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.

This model gives SMEs affordable access to TomTom Telematics’ solutions, but it’s had another benefit as well: As TomTom Telematics introduces new innovations, existing customers can benefit — without the costs associated with replacing all of their existing technology themselves.

An indispensable tool

For a transport and logistics business like VDM Group, which has more than 160 vehicles on the road, this means they have access to incredible new offerings, without needing to replace their TomTom units themselves.

“TomTom plays a critical role in our business,” says Deon van der Merwe, CEO of VDM Group. “It’s an indispensable tool in ensuring quality customer feedback and the management of KPIs for all supply chain stakeholders.

“Earlier this year, TomTom Telematics launched their New WEBFLEET product. We were very satisfied with what we had, and yet they still approached us and offered to replace all our existing units with new tablets, and they’re covering the installation costs,” explains Deon.

Related: Driving Your Business Growth Towards More Customers

“New WEBFLEET is the result of TomTom innovating their product based on customer feedback from around the world, and the local team wanted to ensure we had access to the additional functionality and innovations that had been introduced.”

Seamless integration with your network

According to Deon, the new TomTom PRO 8275 units seamlessly integrate VDM’s fleet scheduling software with information they extract from TomTom, including individual vehicles’ standing time and arrival notifications.

“The software from TomTom is open API, which means that all our various applications can communicate and interact with each other,” he explains. “From a productivity perspective, we no longer need to manually capture any trip information.

In addition, we have every conceivable piece of data available that will assist us to run a leaner, more cost-effective fleet, enabling us to ensure that we are delivering on all our KPIs — particularly with regards to meeting our customers’ needs.”

Related: Changing The Shape Of What’s Possible

VDM is a large transport business, but Deon believes the benefits for SMEs are as great, if not more so. “Many SMEs don’t have the back-office support that we do. The ability to capture and use this information without a team of admin specialists at your disposal is a huge competitive advantage for smaller businesses,” he says.

Offering you the competitive edge

VDM offers a specialised logistics service that creates custom-made options for clients. In order to ensure the most optimal and cost-effective solutions, while still ensuring top quality delivery, they need to consider special and complex individual customer requirements, from the point of origin to the point of destination, before finalising a customer-specific solution.

“We take into account a host of factors, including inventory carrying costs, volume requirements, product specific factors and route to market,” explains Deon.

“Road transport significantly impacts total supply chain costs, and if not managed properly, can have a severe impact on the sustainability of any particular channel. We try and manage this risk by continuously improving our service through innovative logistical solutions, the use of advanced technology, vertical integration and a team of passionate and talented experts.

TomTom assists in creating differentiators

“This focus has helped us to develop a market offering that includes dedicated and completely flexible inter-modal solutions, which is a big differentiator for us. TomTom Telematics plays a key role in our total productivity, helping us measure the performance of road transport across our supply chain.”

Deon believes that what you don’t measure you won’t know.

“TomTom provides updated fleet statistics that allow us to constantly benchmark our fleet against pre-defined route surveys and, in so doing, enables massive savings in fuel and total turnaround time.

Communicating via the WEBFLEET platform also helps us save time and creates a formal trail of correspondence with our drivers. I don’t believe it’s possible to successfully run a business like ours without a solution like this.”

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Company Posts

Sasfin Continues To Support SME Growth

Sasfin’s equity stake in fintech lender Payabill set to enhance SME growth.






In another major step forward in supporting growth in SMEs, Sasfin today announced that it has acquired a strategic stake in fast-growing fintech lender Payabill.

Payabill, a 100% digital lending business, provides working capital and/or trade finance to small businesses. The collaboration between Sasfin and Payabill accelerates financing opportunities for customers.

Sasfin, South Africa’s leading business challenger bank, last year successfully launched its digital platform, B\\YOND, for SMEs.

“Sasfin has been investing in fintechs, building digital capabilities (such as B\\YOND) and working with third parties (such as XERO Accounting) for a number of years with the aim of adding value to our business and wealth clients. Payabill has made huge strides in giving businesses access to digital finance and we are thrilled to announce this investment,” says Sasfin CEO Michael Sassoon.

Payabill CEO Eli Michal launched the pioneering fintech start up in SA in 2017. Payabill settles suppliers directly for its clients and allows clients to select their own extended payment terms. “We are incredibly excited by the opportunity afforded to Payabill by having Sasfin as an equity and debt partner. Sasfin will provide access to new channels and much needed funding that enables us to support the growth of small business finance in South Africa,” says Michal.

Michal started the fintech as he “wanted to enhance access to finance for small businesses in South Africa. We all know that boosting small business creates jobs and enables growth. Traditional lenders have neglected this segment of the market due to the high costs associated with on-boarding and assessing these customers, as well as managing their credit risk. It made no sense to us that a retail consumer could get multiple forms of credit, almost instantly via electronic channels, but small businesses could not. They were being neglected. With this in mind, we set out to build a completely paperless, digital solution to address this market’s unique requirements.”

Currently, Payabill offers loans of up to R150 000 to businesses. The intention is that with the investment made by Sasfin, Payabill will be able to offer larger loans to SMEs in the near future.

The alignment of Payabill’s aims and Sasfin’s long-term focus on small business in SA made for an ideal partnership. “SMEs can now borrow digitally, via Payabill, and bank via B\\YOND from Sasfin – reducing admin and costs which often stifles small business growth. Both B\\YOND and Payabill are gaining meaningful traction in the SME market and there are a host of additional digital initiatives that we are working on to further help small businesses thrive,” says Sassoon.

“While Sasfin has always offered a trade and debtor finance solution, this was largely for more established businesses. The new offering speaks to smaller businesses that are passionate about growth, and our larger Trade and Debtor Finance offering will be there to support businesses that reach the next phase in their development,” says Sassoon.

Sasfin Holdings Limited (“Sasfin” or “the Group” or “the Company”) is a bank-controlling company listed in the “Financials: Investment Services” sector of the JSE Limited (“the JSE”).  Sasfin and its subsidiaries provide a wide range of complementary banking, financial and related services.

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Company Posts

Driving Your Business Growth Towards More Customers

Designed to help its customers get the most from their businesses through the right telematics solution, New WEBFLEET can help you reach your customers quicker, get more done, improve efficiencies, save costs and boost your revenues.

TomTom Telematics




Europe’s highly regulated operating environment has made telematics ubiquitous in business. On the one hand, this means industries across the spectrum have become safer, more efficient and highly productive across the EU. On the other, it’s much harder to stand out from the crowd when everyone follows the same best practice standards.

“We don’t have those same stringent regulations in place,” says Justin Manson, Sales Director, Africa at TomTom Telematics. “Our clients have realised what a huge competitive advantage this actually offers them though.

“Locally, everyone understands the role that telematics plays in tracking what your drivers are doing right and wrong, and use it as a tool for encouraging good driving practices, but there’s so much more to this solution, and we’re making it our mission to help business owners really use it to their benefit.

“When deployed across the organisation to its full capabilities, a telematics system can radically improve productivity and workflow. Done correctly, a business can save up to 10% on its bottom line, and redeploy that cash into the company’s growth, thanks to drivers reaching customers quicker and getting more done. The right data also increases productivity and ensures better turnaround times.”

Thomas Schmidt, MD of TomTom Telematics, loves visiting South Africa for this very reason. “Because so many business owners aren’t using telematics to their full extent, there’s such a huge opportunity for us to assist businesses in their growth here,” he says. “We deliver a high-value stack of products that can change the way companies operate, and most importantly help them save money and make money. The challenge for us is educating our customers so that they understand what our solutions offer, and the incredible impact they can have on a business. We consistently improve these solutions based on customer feedback as well, making them very much from customers for customers.

Related: Why Your Fleet Management Plays a Pivotal Role In Your Business

“Anyone can buy a map for less than R100. Why invest in such expensive devices? The answer is because we’ve developed solutions that change lives. With the right data — and access to that data — you increase safety, simplify your business, drive efficiencies, increase your output and customer service, and ensure you are always productive and reliable — across the organisation. And that impact can be measured, and given a real ROI value.

“Imagine the impression companies that operate at that level make on their industries. They stand out from their competitors. There is so much room for growth in South Africa as we deploy these solutions.”

Game-changing solutions

As an organisation, TomTom Telematics is focused on continuous growth and innovation as well, constantly learning from market conditions, its customers and industry needs to improve its product offerings.

The result is the launch of New WEBFLEET in February 2018. “We’ve increased the value we offer our customers,” says Thomas. “We’ve collated data from hundreds of thousands of customers around the world who gave us their feedback through surveys, and New WEBFLEET is a window into easy-to-use, smart fleet management that is a game changer for companies.”

“TomTom Telematics is in the business of helping businesses,” agrees Justin. “Our goal is help our customers master their challenges. The right data at your fingertips will help you change the way you operate. That’s our goal. How much cash is being left on the table in an organisation because of inefficiencies?”

Introducing New Webfleet

The smartest way to manage your vehicles and mobile workforce

tomtom-telematicsTomTom Telematics’ state of the art Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) fleet management solution, with best-in-class user interface, is inspired by two decades of working together with customers to achieve more for better fleet management. New WEBFLEET is everything you need to manage your vehicles in the cloud, in real time. It allows you to monitor reports and dashboards, manage orders/workflow, and improve driving behaviour, safety and service, helping you save fuel and reduce costs.

Best-in-class user interface

  • A future-proof platform with a completely renewed interface, based on the latest HTML5 technology and driven by continuous innovation.
  • Simple and clean interface, with minimised clicks for faster working.
  • Intuitive functionality, means it is more accessible for greater impact across your business.
  • User rights management and state-of-the-art data handing ensures the highest level of data privacy and data security.
  • Fast access to the right information.

Related: Fleet Tools Will Help You Get More Done In Less Time

Map view

Know where your vehicles are and where they have been. Different map options such as Google, Google Street View or satellite map are enriched with traffic information, giving you a more detailed view on what’s happening on the roads. Toggle between different types of information on the map such as traffic, addresses and areas and create specific views, so you only see the information you need.


New WEBFLEET’s dashboard gives an overview of performance at a glance. Up to 27 KPIs can be used to track the performance of vehicles, individuals, benchmark teams or give a simple overview. This helps you to track real-time performance against your pre-defined KPIs.


New WEBFLEET gives you instant access to the information that matters, meaning you can spot trends over time and use real-time information to make smarter and more informed decisions. You can instantly download or schedule reports to help you stay on top of everything — from fuel efficiency and legal compliance to quality of service.

Manage on the move

New WEBFLEET is optimised so you can manage your fleet on any device by entering WEBFLEET through a web browser or by downloading the WEBFLEET Mobile app on your smartphone.

Send routes direct to drivers

  • Plan accurate routes in New WEBFLEET by adjusting multiple variables such as location, time of departure/arrival, traffic and vehicle type.
  • Get a choice of alternative routes, as well as suggested fastest route with traffic.
  • Customise your route by simply adding new waypoints, or dragging and dropping existing waypoints on a route. Then choose from guided or forced route* options.
  • Send planned routes directly to a TomTom PRO driver terminal to keep your drivers on the right track.

Related: Time Is Money And It’s Time You Saved Both When Running Your Fleet

Personalised Map views*

  • Create your own saved map view to reach information you need fast.
  • Switch between vehicle groups or areas, without needing to adjust the map filters and zoom levels. n


Many ways to customise WEBFLEET to suit individual requirements from personalised views to adding information to make what you see more informative on one page.

Plan a route the way you want it

Use multiple variables (including waypoints) to give fastest or most efficient routes.


Across different device types, allowing you to always stay on top of business.

Simple, clean and easy to administer

Toggle between views to get the right information to focus on the task in hand. Get the right information to the right people at the right time, keep data secure and in the right hands.

Send routes to driver terminals

In real time, ensure drivers follow or avoid specific routes.

Visit and follow us on Twitter @TomTomWEBFLEET

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