Unlock the Secrets of Success: Handling Difficult Customers Training – Your Ultimate Survival Guide

Handling Difficult Customers Training

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 characteristics).

While handling difficult 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. 

That means the process of “handling difficult customers” is to understand what’s upsetting them, de-escalate by showing empathy for their frustration, and help them toward a satisfactory resolution. Accomplishing this work requires you to get curious about what happened to the customer to make them feel underappreciated. From there, you can forge a relationship with your customer as you solve the issue together.

What specific steps go into this process? Let’s dive in.


3 Steps To Handling Difficult Customers

Customers see exceptional service as one of the most valuable elements of their experience with your company. If that service underwhelms, they will leave. In fact, a recent survey found 96% of customers would leave a company because of poor service.  

That means providing great service is a crucial part of your role as a customer service professional. But doing so becomes tougher when you’re handling difficult customers. 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! We recommend a three-step process, drawn from our handling difficult customers training program and insights.



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 handling difficult 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 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.

Once you reset your own viewpoint, you can then invite your customers to share more about the issue frustrating them. Active listening is key at this point—pay close attention to the words your customer chooses and how they describe the issue. You can then apply the Platinum Rule more effectively and unpack the real pain points your customer is feeling.

Check out our handling difficult customers training programs for more information on this step.

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. And the quality of their interactions with you influences your sales and the ability to run your business—your brand depends on happy customers!

In many cases, handling difficult customers comes down to ensuring that upset customers feel heard and know that action is being taken to correct the situation. Oftentimes, that takes the form of them venting their frustrations—so let them vent! While that process unfolds, use affirming language like “I’d be upset if that happened to me, too.” 

The key at this stage is to show empathy and demonstrate to your customer that you truly care about their position and that you’re listening deeply to their concerns. Much of our handling difficult customers training revolves around exercising your emotional intelligence: your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships with your customers.

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.

Check out our handling difficult customers training programs for more information on this step.



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 might sound helpful at first glance. But much like citing “policy” or telling customers what you “can’t/don’t/won’t” do for them, telling them “I’m sorry you feel that way” is dismissive and doesn’t demonstrate empathy. At this stage, you’re reinforcing your relationship with your customer—and not choosing positive, affirming words undoes your work in building a common understanding of the issue. 

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?

Handling difficult customers requires making careful choices with your language. Of course, you want to help as much as you can! That said, 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. 

Check out our handling difficult customers training programs for more information on this step.


Turn That Customer’s Frown Upside Down!

Handling difficult customers can seem like a scary proposition. But by following these three steps, you can train your emotional intelligence and boost your confidence and empathy skills to turn any unhappy customer into a happy one! Happy customers increase sales, engagement, and 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 handling difficult customers training programs.