How to Handle Difficult Customers: A Survival Guide

how to handle difficult customers

If you work directly with customers, you’ve most likely had your fair share of, let’s call them “difficult ones,” though we know you may be calling them something else in your heads. Whether you’re speaking with customers face-to-face, over the phone, or by chat, difficult customers can sometimes put you under a mental strain, or just outright ruin your day

However, there is an important distinction to consider: Is the customer actually difficult, or are they merely upset?

Chances are, the difficult customer is more likely an upset customer. It’s your job to turn that frown upside down and best represent your organization. 

When faced with this type of customer it can feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, where every move you make seems to wedge you tighter. The good news is you can get unstuck in three steps taken from our customer service training.


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


1. 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. Sometimes the thing that went wrong is seemingly small to you as the customer service representative, but if it matters to the customer, then you want to make sure you have the right tools in your toolbelt to fix it.

While the Golden Rule asks that you treat others the way you want to be treated, when it comes to difficult customers, use the Platinum Rule: treat others the way they want to be treated. 

Instead of getting frustrated that the customer isn’t reacting the way you’d react in a similar situation, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Shifting your point of view will make it easier to show empathy and listen to what they have to say. You shouldn’t forget that everyone is dealing with different struggles. The difficult customer you’re working with may have just had a terrible day at work and so any perceived slight or misstep may have driven them to contact you.


Customer Service Training - Difficult Customer


2. Correct It

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 solution. In some cases, difficult customers just want to feel heard and know that action is being taken.

The first step to correct the problem is to determine what action is important right now. Your customer’s needs will almost always fall into two categories: interactional and transactional. Transactional needs require technical skills, while interactional needs will put  your people skills to the test. 

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.


3. Reinforce Your Relationship

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

Following these three steps can help boost your confidence and empathy skills, and turn any unhappy customer into a happy one! Happy customers increase sales, engagement, and are all-around much easier to work with. Make your job and their life easier with solid customer service skills.

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

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