How to Deal With a Difficult Customer

difficult customer

marketing plan templateStrategies for dealing with an unsatisfied or difficult customer that will help minimize any damage to your small business reputation and future sales

For those who run a business, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to deal with your fair share of difficult customers.

I can assure you that there’s not a single company in business that’s immune to this eventuality. And since we live in a “the customer is always right” society, you’re going to be expected to solve some ridiculous problems and attend to unreasonable demands.

So, what do you do when you come face to face with these demanding patrons?

Mentally Prepare Yourself to Take a Profit Hit

Getting in the right mindset to deal with a difficult customer and a potential failure is incredibly important. As you interact with them, assume the best resolution for both parties will be reached. Oftentimes you get what you expect, so expect a positive outcome. However, it’s important to remember that your time, reputation, and mental health are far more important than trying to save a few dollars profit.

If you continue to put profit in front of your own happiness, dealing with angry customers will drain away your life force and add to the stresses of life. In most cases, it’s simply not worth it. Knowing where to draw the line is key.

Control Your Emotions

The first thing you must do when dealing with an angry customer is to remain calm. Don’t let your emotions take control or you may say things you will regret later.

Refrain from arguing with the customer as it will only serve to make things much worse. If you allow them to push your buttons and lose control of yourself, you’ll lose control of the situation. No matter what happens, keep your tone of voice measured and light.

Respond Quickly

The quicker you respond to an angry customer’s complaints, the better. The rise of social media has made it incredibly easy for dissatisfied customers to permanently mar your reputation in a matter of minutes. What’s more, you may never see an angry customer face to face.

67 percent of consumers use social media for customer service purposes, so your presence there is absolutely crucial. Consider using Twitter and Facebook’s built-in alert systems to keep an eye on your social media accounts at all times.

Let the Customer Vent

Angry customers want to be heard. Therefore it’s incredibly important to listen closely, acknowledge their feelings, and understand their point of view.

If you’re dealing with the customer in person, maintain eye contact, show attentiveness by standing or sitting up straight, and indicate you have an open mind by uncrossing your arms. Let them tell their story and pay close attention, repeating or paraphrasing what you hear.


Take a moment to look at the problem from your customer’s perspective. Knowing what they know — and not what you know — why are they angry? Understanding where they’re coming from is the best way to start the problem solving process — even if it seems like it makes no sense. Show genuine concern and deliver as much value as you possibly can.

Explain the Why Behind Your Practices

Customers know less about your business than you do. Once you understand their point of view you also need to help them understand yours. The best way to do this is to share inside information and explain the why behind the situation.

If the issue stems from shipping or an outside vendor, you can explain your lack of immediate control but your willingness to help them solve the problem. By offering both an explanation and a willingness to help, customers are more likely to calm down and take advantage of your support.

Ask Questions

In order to solve the problem, you need to know why the customer is upset in the first place. If the customer is so agitated that they’re ranting instead of supplying useful information that you could use to resolve the situation, wait for an opportunity to speak and then ask a series of guided questions that will help you understand what’s going on.

Explore Alternatives

Once you’ve determined what the problem is and know as much background information as possible, it’s time to start looking for solutions that will work for both of you. Make sure you really sell the solutions. Tell the customer why your solution is appealing and explain how you can deliver better and more consistently working inside of your existing systems.

Apologize and Thank Them

If there’s no way you can solve the problem to the customer’s satisfaction, then you must at least apologize. An apology can go a surprisingly long way toward preserving a customer relationship — that is, as long as the customer is reasonable.

Even if your customer is being unreasonable or leaving for bad reasons, you still have a history together. Recognize that history by thanking the customer for their past business. Not only is this a good thing to do, it’s also smart, as that customer may choose to return in the future if they know they left on good terms.

When a Customer Is Aggressive or Abusive

As with all things in life, there are always situations that call for different approach. If an angry customer repeatedly uses foul or threatening language, advise them that you will not tolerate being spoken to in that manner. Explain that while you are there to help, you will call security or the police if they fail to behave appropriately.

Furthermore, if a customer is being abusive or aggressive toward your employees, it’s imperative you take the employee’s side — your loyalty should always lie with them. This may seem slightly backward, but consider this: When you put the employees first, they put the customers first.

Workers who are taken care of by their employers give better service because they care more about the customers, have more energy, and are happy and more motivated. Conversely, when management consistently sides with customers instead of with employees, it sends a clear message that employees are not valued and have no right to respect from customers.

This type of attitude from the top leads employees stop caring about service. Remember, being on the side of your employees, and more importantly, respecting them, is one of the best ways to increase employee engagement and avoid high turnover.

When dealing with angry, difficult, or dissatisfied customers, you can only control your own actions. However, you can have a considerable influence on how customers respond to you. Though they often expect more than you can do, it is possible to manage their expectations, deliver what you can, and keep them happy. Good luck!

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Liz Greene

Writer, Marketing Specialist
Liz Greene is a writer, marketing professional, and full blown pop culture geek from the beautiful City of Trees, Boise, ID. When she’s not stalking the aisles of her local Ulta, she can be found shoveling down sushi while discussing the merits of the latest Game of Thrones fan theories.