How to Handle Difficult Customers: A Survival Guide

how to handle difficult customers

Regardless of the industry you’re in, if you deal with customers, at some point in time you’re going to be confronted with a “difficult” one.

But, here’s an important question to ask yourself. “Is the customer actually difficult, or are they merely upset?” Chances are the “difficult” customer is more likely an upset customer, and it’s your job to turn that frown, upside down. The good news is, you can do it in three steps!

  1. Figure out what went wrong.
  2. Correct it.
  3. Reinforce your relationship.

Figure Out What Went Wrong

Chances are, the customer is being difficult because their needs have not been met; there is a divide between their expectations and their experience. Put on your listening hat and remember the Platinum Rule: treat others the way THEY want to be treated. By putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, you will see the problem from their point of view and it will make it easier to show empathy.

Correct It

To begin to correct the problem, the first step is to determine what action is important right now. While the customer may not in fact always be right, always do what you can to make it right. Acknowledge their unhappiness and make it clear that you’re working towards a clear and quick solution.

Your customer’s needs will almost always fall into two categories: interactional and transactional. To meet a transactional need, you will use technical skills, while interactional needs will require your people skills.

Once you’ve determined what’s required to meet the customer’s needs, work to do what is best for both the customer and the company. .

Reinforce Your Relationship

Listening, being empathetic and using positive, affirming words and phrases will go a long way in making your customer feel valued. Let your customer know exactly what your next steps are, what they can expect, and then follow through on your promises.


Think of these three steps as your ‘How to Handle Difficult Customers Survival Guide’. By following them, you can be confident that you have the know-how to turn any unhappy customer into a happy one, and those frowns back upside-down!

For more in-depth lessons and information on how you can become a customer service superstar, check out our custom training programs.