Dealing with difficult customers

Dealing with difficult customers

On average 8% of customers will be difficult to deal with. The word difficult doesn’t just mean what you may be thinking; it can range from complaining “never happy” customers, through to customers who are just plain frustrating to deal with for many reasons.

Dealing with the “unhappy customers” can cause conflict; so, how is conflict defined?

Conflict is a very normal part of any healthy relationship, whether that be a work/customer or even work/staff relationships. Conflict is more than just a disagreement. A conflict can come with a threat, and whether it is real or not, it must be dealt with in order to move on. Conflict often becomes more serious when ignored.

It is not possible for everyone to agree about everything all the time. What is important  is to learn how to manage disagreements so that they do not harm relationships. By learning skills to manage conflict, you can approach disagreements with confidence which keeps your personal and professional relationship strong.

When you are dealing with difficult people it can help to find something that you like about that person. It may be hard to but it can be the smallest thing; this will help you to frame the conversation a lot more positively.

Another way to look at dealing with difficult people is to realise that we need to hold them accountable. Holding people accountable may or may not become a confrontation, but it is necessary nonetheless.

When there’s a problem, people want to be taken seriously, to be treated with respect, have immediate action, the “problem” to be cleared up and most importantly to know they have been listened to. Ultimately people want to be understood and supported.

Showing or displaying empathy when talking with a difficult customer is extremely important. Using rephrasing sentences such as ‘’I understand’’, or ‘’I think you’re saying’’ before answering, gives you a chance to empathise with their concern. It’s an opportunity to show the person that you understand their concern but also importantly provides a moment for you to think of an appropriate response.

Accessing the situation allows you to get a clearer understanding of why they are complaining, be empathetic to their situation, stay calm and objective (in other words keep the conversation on track, don’t allow them to veer the conversation off in another direction), be up front and honest about what you can do for them.


And in that moment when you can’t do anything for them or you are unsure about what to do, let them know that you will discuss their concern further with your manager (or someone higher up) and get back to them. Ensure you give then a deadline of when you will get back to them otherwise they will continue to feel as if they are not being heard or cared about!

It is also important to check and ensure that the customer is satisfied with your level of understanding or your explanation about their concern before ending the conversation with them.

Communication: How do we communicate?

Face to face:                         7% is content (what we say)

38% Tone (how we say those words)

55% Body Language

Over the telephone:            18% Content

82% Tone

As these percentages show it is hugely important to ensure your body language is open and understanding when talking face to face. And when you are on the phone to ensure the tone of your voice reflects the situation and expresses empathy and understanding.

Words we should remove from our vocabulary when dealing with difficult customers are NO, BUT, TRY, SORRY and N’T on the end of words – don’t, can’t, won’t etc…


There are four D’s of conflict resolution – things to remember:


  • Is the issue worth my time?
  • What feelings are happening in me and them?
  • How will I maintain composure?
  • Create a safe zone (when dealing with a customer face to face)


  • Determine the facts, frequency, frustration
  • Describe the behavior or expectation
  • Make it easy


  • Create a win/win agreement
  • Decide on an action plan

Do it:

  • Make it happen
  • Follow up