How To Deal With Difficult Customers

Angry young woman arguing talking on phone at homeI recall a customer years ago who I would describe as ‘difficult’. No matter what I said, she interrupted me. No matter how I tried to appease her, she wouldn’t listen.

No matter what action I tried to take, she wanted more. She was the epitome of what I would call ‘difficult’. However, I’m sure if I had used that word to her to describe her attitude, she would have disputed it and said something like ‘I’m being reasonable’ or ‘I’m being realistic’.

A customer behaves the way they do for a reason, and there are many reasons they would choose this behaviour. Maybe it’s because they feel they have been hard-done-by. Maybe they have a legitimate concern. Or maybe it’s simply because this type of behaviour works. Remember, PEOPLE BEHAVE THE WAY THEY DO BECAUSE THEY THINK IT WILL GET THEM WHAT THEY WANT. So, what would be some tips to deal with customers who we would consider to be difficult? How should we deal with difficult customers?

Handling difficult customers

1) Recognise they are behaving that way because they think it will work

Therefore, you need to listen between the lines of what they are saying and identify not only the cause for their behaviour but also the underlying rationale they are using. If they are complaining, listen to what’s behind it. If they’re being unreasonable, listen to their point of view. Get a clear picture of what they are trying to say.

2) Recognise that when they are in an emotional state, they can’t think logically

There is a part of our brain called the amygdala, and it is often described as our temper-regulator. It is responsible for our charged emotions and when we react to something without using logical thought, it has been described as an ‘amygdala hijack’ Be aware that if a person is emotional, their ability to think things through logically may be impaired at best, non-existent at worst. Let the emotion run its course before offering any solution. Dealing with difficult customers is bad enough when they are in a temper; dealing with angry customers by not letting that anger dissipate can lead to highly-charged discussions.

3) Control your own emotions

This is difficult, and dealing with difficult customers can drive your own emotions off the scale as well. Attempt to be rationale and clear-thinking. Dealing with angry customers can often turn our own emotions upside down, so try to see the rational side of the situation, remain calm and approach it from a different perspective. Want to build up your emotional resilience, check out our Resilience Training.

4) Don’t take it personally

Unless you are personally at fault (in which case a sincere apology can go a long way to start with) dealing with difficult customers can become a whole lot easier if you recognise they are not getting on at you personally. Maybe it’s a system fault, or a delivery issue, or simply a product issue. If you can detach yourself from the situation and view it dispassionately, you give your self a better chance to deal with the difficult customers.

5) Get all the facts and be absolutely clear about them

When an angry customer is talking to you face to face or on the phone, they often don’t explain things in a logical sequence, or they may miss out pertinent facts and information. Listening to the facts and clarifying exactly what the situation is can make the difficult customer feel listened to and that you actually care about helping them.

6) Talk about action

Very often, handling difficult customers can become easier if we consider what action they are wanting us to take. As soon as you have the full details, having listened carefully and identified the real situation by cutting through the emotional rhetoric, you could say something like ‘Thank you for telling me this, and I would now like to look at what options we have in going forward’. What does this do? It shows the difficult customer you have their interests at heart and it switched the conversation around from them having the centre-stage to you now working on what would be the necessary next steps to rectify what might have gone wrong in this case.

7) Explain what you can and can’t do and be open to discussing further options

Difficult customers are that way because they feel some of their rules have been broken or standards haven’t been met and want to make that known. Your response will always have an impact on the course of the discussion. If you have an angry customer to deal with, their anger may be assuaged if you are able to offer them some direction to help them rectify what’s caused the anger.

8) Explain what will happen next

Dealing with difficult customers is hard enough and you don’t want to make it harder by justifying why your company did what it did or following policy that will irritate the customer. Instead, work on taking action that will help you and they jump to the next step Handling difficult customers can be a trying experience for both sides. No-one like dealing with situations that have gone wrong. By following these ideas, you help both yourself and the difficult customer to come to conclusions that will be best for both of you and maybe create reasons for them to still be loyal to you in the future.

Want additional training? Why not check out our Complaint Handling Training Course

Thanks again

Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 15 May, 2019

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