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Customer Service Tactics to Handle Difficult Customers

The customer is never wrong – and some customers take this to heart. What can you do when faced with a difficult customer? Before simply refusing their business, you should consider the cost of doing so in terms of dollars and the impact this might have on your reputation.

There are some things you can do to try avoiding difficult customers, like sensible customer profiling and gathering customer information before entering into a business relationship. Although these things mainly apply to long-term customer relationships and not one-time shoppers, a poor fit between a customer’s expectations and your business philosophy is always likely to foreshadow a strained relationship. So regardless of whether you are dealing with a regular or a unique client, it helps to have a clear idea of what customer service tactics you can apply so that your business reputation does not get compromised.

The Role of Management
Customer service training is important. This is an area where senior management and HR play a key role. Trainers and experienced customer-facing executives should guide their staffs on how to skillfully handle a customer who may be angry, rude, or irritated. Converting a disgruntled customer into a fan of your business can add tremendous value to your company.

Tactics to Manage Difficult Customers
Here are six ways in which you can defuse a hostile client situation:

  1. Be a good listener. A cardinal rule of good customer service is listening. Oftentimes, an upset customer only wishes to be heard. By giving him a patient ear, you are letting him know that you are attentive to his thoughts and that you appreciate his feedback.
  2. Think before you respond. Do not take the customer’s language and demeanor personally as this may affect your response. Be detached and professional. Do not offer excuses, but come up with a plan of attack to rectify the situation. Excuses will only serve to further inflame an already agitated customer.
  3. Involve senior management if needed. Despite your efforts at handling a difficult customer, sometimes you may find that the customer has no intention of being appeased. Try and assess the situation and involve a senior executive in the discussion if necessary.
  4. Be aware of the rules. You cannot understand the customer’s situation or make a useful suggestion if you’re not clear about the rules yourself. If you know your company’s customer-facing processes inside-out, you can quickly calm an agitated customer by pointing out the facts and asking relevant questions.
  5. Empathize. A sure way to win over an agitated customer is to empathize with him. A customer will only begin to take into consideration your suggested solutions if he feels that you have correctly grasped the issue.
  6. Resolve the issue. Actively initiate a process to tackle the customer’s complaint so that it gets resolved as soon as possible, ideally in front of him so that he feels satisfied with the resolution. Tell the customer the steps you propose to take. Promise to deliver only what you can and once you do, inform the customer. Also, a follow-up is a thoughtful gesture that customers appreciate.


Occasionally, you may have to get firm with an unruly customer and let him go. “The customer is king” is a common customer service maxim, but when faced with someone who is truly unreasonable, you should be prepared to deal with him in a firm manner. Above all else, treat each encounter with a difficult client as a learning experience and incorporate it into your next customer service interaction to improve customer satisfaction rates.

  • Chrstnjayme

    thanks for the tip

  • Abe Vance

    I think the big mistake companies or people make is to create an environment in which the customer thinks they are king. Maybe that’s the case at big chains like Walmart, but if you’re your own company making your own products and there’s a real bottomline at stake, you should be able to be firm with your customers. Set the right expectations. Don’t get jerked around.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jduenweg Jude Duenweg

     Pepper spray works, too.  (just kidding)

  • Nathan Rowan

    Good tips. I’d be curious to know the other side of the story tho – how to handle poor customer service. Try calling an airline these days – it’s one of the worst customer experiences I’ve ever had. And automated prompts etc are only making things worse.