How to Deal with Difficult Customers

How to Deal With Difficult Customers

Every business has to face customers who are unhappy, disappointed or frustrated. Finding a way to manage these situations is key to providing better service and protecting your business reputation. More than half of U.S. consumers tell others about their poor service experiences, and 43 percent say companies don’t work to keep their business, according to research by American Express.

Don’t let your company fall into this category. Follow these simple rules to help turn complicated customers into satisfied ones:

Listen Attentively

Prickly customers often just want to be heard. Whether by phone or in person, give them an opportunity to share why they are upset and what they want from you. You may find it difficult to let them finish before you jump in, especially if they lack important information or if you can anticipate what they are going to say next. Do your best to stay quiet and listen for clues that will help you recognize how to resolve the situation. If it’s in person, make eye contact and offer signals such as head nods to show you’re listening.

Repeat Their Story

Once they’re done talking, ask questions to confirm that you have identified the problem correctly. Say what you believe the customers told you to be sure you understand the situation. Invite corrections if they think you got it wrong. Repeating the problem highlights that you were listening, which can reduce anger and stress levels. It also helps to agree on the specific issues that need to be resolved. This is a good time to show empathy and help customers see that you share their frustration.

Speak Slowly

Use a calm, slow voice to talk through issues and work toward a resolution. Your demeanor will balance any tension and begin to settle the situation. Tell the customers how you will address their issues. If you can’t offer the solution they want, be direct about it and acknowledge that this may make them feel frustrated. Avoid getting defensive.

Imagine You Have an Audience

With social media, it’s easier than ever for dissatisfied customers to tell others about their interactions with your company. Research from communications firm Fishburn Hedges shows that 68 percent of consumers believe social media increase their customer voice. Pretend you are speaking to this larger group when you respond to complaints. This increases the chance of a positive outcome because you’ll be focused on the larger implications of a single act of service. It can also diffuse the tension of a one-on-one confrontation if you shift your perspective to dealing with a larger group.


Be sure you and your customers leave the conversation with the same expectations. Offer your name and your direct line so they will feel confident that they can reach you again. If you navigate to a positive resolution, make sure your customers know that you appreciate having the opportunity to address the situation.

Follow Up

If you promise something to your customers, follow up immediately. If you are facing a situation that can’t be resolved as quickly as you had hoped, call to give an update. This can reassure them that you intend to address any concerns, and will prevent them from thinking that you made a promise just to end a difficult conversation.

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