A Survival Guide to Dealing With “Difficult” Customers

how to handle difficult customers

If you’ve ever worked in the realm of customer service, you’ve likely encountered a “difficult” customer. You know the ones: demanding, impatient, indecisive, aggressive, and critical (to name a few).

While dealing with unhappy customers every once in a while is a normal part of customer care, it can still be emotionally taxing. Whether you’re speaking with customers face-to-face, over the phone, or by chat, negative customer interactions can really add to our mental strain.

So, what’s the solution? Like most things we teach here at Bonfire, it calls for a slight shift in mindset. Ask yourself: Is the customer actually difficult, or are they merely upset? Chances are, that “difficult” customer is actually just an upset customer. To help calm the situation, get curious about what happened to the customer to make them feel underappreciated—we’ll teach you how:

3 Steps To Survival

When faced with an upset 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.


Chances are, the customer is being “difficult” because their needs have not been met, putting a divide between their expectations and their experience. The issue may seem insignificant to you as the customer service representative, but it could very well be a big deal to the customer.

If the customer is not feeling supported by your company in the way they expected, it’s valid for them to speak up about their concerns. Do your part to ensure you have the right tools in your toolbelt to resolve the issue. Even though these customers may make your blood boil—it’s still your job to help them!

Instead of getting frustrated that the customer isn’t reacting the way you’d react, put yourself in their shoes. Shifting your point of view will make it easier to show empathy and listen to what the disgruntled customer has to say.

Remember that “difficult” customers are actually just people who may be fighting a secret battle, and this situation has put them over the edge. While the Golden Rule asks us to treat others the way we want to be treated, we suggest exercising the Platinum Rule when it comes to customer service: treat others the way THEY want to be treated.

Customer Service Training - Difficult Customer


You’ve likely heard the saying “the customer is always right.” While this isn’t true 100% of the time—we do think representatives should always do what they can to make it right. We don’t believe the customer is always right, but the customer is always the customer.

In many cases, upset customers just want to feel heard and know that action is being taken to correct the situation. Let them vent! And use affirming language like “I’d be upset if that happened to me, too.”

Once you’ve acknowledged their frustration and clarified that you will work toward a solution, you can determine what action to take next. Your customer’s needs will almost always fall into two categories: interactional and transactional. Transactional needs require technical skills—and may be as simple as correcting a billing error—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.


Listening, being empathetic, and using positive, affirming words and phrases will go a long way in making your customers feel valued. Verbiage like “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and the like is dismissive and doesn’t come off as empathetic. Instead, try these suggestions:

  • Thank you for reaching out and bringing this to our attention, [Customer name]. I’ll do everything I can to get this issue resolved as soon as possible. Here are my next steps…
  • [customer name], I could use your help. I’d like to ask a few questions so we can sort this out together.
  • This situation sounds really inconvenient, [customer name]—I understand why it’s frustrating. Let me see what I can do to help.
  • [Customer name], I can see why this is upsetting, and I want to preserve our relationship as best I can. How can I help resolve this situation?

Side Note: Abusive language from customers is NEVER acceptable. No one should have to deal with profanity, personal attacks, or put-downs from a customer. If you find yourself in this situation, you’re within your rights to pause the conversation and get your manager to step in. 

Turn That Customer’s Frown Upside Down!

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, loyalty 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.