Soft Skills Training

How To Handle Difficult Customers?

At first glance, handling a difficult customer may seem like a thankless job. Fortunately, you can develop skills to adapt to the challenges difficult customers pose and extend these skills to handling difficult people and situations throughout your daily life. By improving the focus of your thoughts and feelings, how you manage stress, and how well you listen to and empathize with others, you will be better able to meet the challenges other people pose in both your professional and personal life.

Keeping a positive mental attitude in the face of difficulty isn’t easy. In fact, according to psychologists, our brains seem to be hardwired to focus on the negative, as studies have shown. However, here is some postivity to focus on: many studies have also demonstrated that cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” and engaging in regular exercise and meditation have dramatic effects on our sense of well being.

Quick tips:

  • Be Grateful
  • Make Gratitude a Habit
  • Keep Your Body Healthy With Exercise & A Balanced Diet
  • Invoke Inner Peace Through Meditation 
  • Keep A Journal Of Your Thoughts And Feelings
  • Schedule Time For Play And Relaxation

Stress Management (Internal Stressors)

Life is dynamic and constantly changing. This simple fact creates emotional, mental, and physical stress. It’s not possible to avoid stress entirely. Instead, you have to learn how to manage stress and navigate through the situations that trigger stress. Often it is the stressful situations in life that bring out our best.

There are two types of stressors: internal stressors and external stressors. External stressors relate to your environment. They can involve a wide variety of things from screaming alarm clocks to crowded elevators to high pressure situations such as a work deadline, caring for a sick loved one, and even positive events such as gaining recognition for achievement. Often, external stressors represent things that are beyond our control.

Internal stressors are those stress triggers that are internal to each person. These can range from feeling irritable to feeling tired or unappreciated. Negative thoughts and automatic thinking are forms of internal stressors.

Stress Management (External Stressors)

External stressors can often be a source of frustration. You have limited control over the things that come at you in life. When managing stress resulting from external stressors, adaptability and understanding what you can control are vital.

Why are Some Customers Difficult

While many of your interactions with customers will be pleasant and positive, you inevitably will have to interact with customers who are difficult in some way. Keep in mind that just as all of your emotions communicate to you so you can assess your situation, this is also the case for the difficult customer. Regardless of why they are angry or upset, their feelings are valid. Understanding the different reasons behind their behavior can help you to resolve their difficulty.

  • They Have Truly Had a Bad Experience and Want to Vent
  • Want Someone to be Held Accountable
  • They Have Truly Had a Bad Experience and Want Resolution
  • They are Generally Unhappy

Dealing with the Customer Over the Phone

When you eliminate one of your five senses, your other senses tend to become sharper. This is an important fact to consider when working with a customer over the phone. Since you cannot see the customer nor they you, the audio aspects of the interaction become magnified, including such aspects as your tone of voice and any noises occurring in the background on either side of the line.

  • Listen to the Customer’s Complaint
  • Build Rapport
  • Do Not Respond with Negative Words or Emotion
  • Offer a Verbal Solution to Your Customer

Dealing with the Customer In Person

When you interact with a customer in person, you have both greater challenges and greater opportunities to build a rapport with that customer than you have when speaking with them over the phone. Consequently, nearly everything said about handling a customer over the phone is in play, along with additional approaches.

  • Listen to the Customer’s Concerns
  • Build Rapport
  • Respond with Positive Words and Body Language

Sensitivity in Dealing with Customers

Customer service professionals will inevitably interact with customers who provide specific kinds of challenges. Becoming sensitive to the types of customers you will deal with, and developing strategies for specific customer situations will make those difficult customer situations less challenging. This module offers examples of the types of challenging customers that you will face, along with specific approaches that can make those interactions not only less challenging, but more rewarding as well.

Customers who are Angry

Dealing with a customer who is angry requires patience and the utmost care in managing your own mood. An angry customer can discombobulate you or arouse your own anger. Here are some steps you can take when handling an angry customer:

  • Don’t take it personally. Whatever reason the customer has for being angry, it probably did not involve you personally. You can own the problem, as well as the solution, without owning the blame for the situation.
  • Beware of your own auto-defense mechanisms. Defensive thoughts such as I won’t be treated this way or If I don’t stand up to this person, I will fail tend to engage when you feel under attack. Remember that these types of thoughts often display distorted thinking patterns.
  • Remain calm. Take deep breaths to relax and slow your own arousal levels.
  • No matter how outrageous your customer’s ranting may be coming across, look for and note any kernels of truth in their statements. Listen actively and ask questions when appropriate to understand the real problem.
  • Use a brief moment of silence to allow your customer to finish venting and to allow yourself to regroup.
  • Once you respond, express agreement with your customer about any of the truth you noted. Express empathy, and offer an apology for their experience (this allows you to apologize without expressing any wrongdoing or accepting blame), and express willingness to find a solution.

Customers who are Rude

  A customer who is rude to you can make it very difficult for you to do your job. Rude and abusive comments can be discombobulating. In addition to implementing the suggestions above for handling an angry customer, you may have to take additional steps to handle customers who are rude and abusive to you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Remember that your role as a customer service representative is to act as a partner with the customer in resolving the customer’s issue. This helps to keep you in the Adult mode in the transaction even when the other person is operating in the Child mode.
  • When a customer is being directly abusive towards you, it may become necessary to remind the customer that personal attacks aren’t helpful towards resolving the situation. However, this must be done delicately. When you point out such behavior to the customer, make sure that you do so from a place of calm and optimism. You could remind the customer that you are dedicated to helping them resolve their issue.
  • Consult with your company or supervisor regarding business policies towards customers making personal attacks. Many companies have a “three strikes, you’re out” policy. However, keep in mind that taking a step such as this may escalate the issue rather than de-escalate the issue. Applying a “three strikes, you’re out” approach must be used sparingly and with careful consideration of your immediate goal of helping customers resolve their issues.
  • If you find yourself in a position where you must warn a customer about abusive language, try to do so without snapping or being curt yourself. Rather than de-escalating, snapping at a customer can put them on the defensive and encourage escalating behaviors.

Customers with Different Cultural Values

We all come from different cultural backgrounds, and the differences in these backgrounds can put you in a position as a customer service representative where you are dealing with someone with a completely different set of values. How people express anger, for example, differs widely. Some may take the approach that they need to “whip the other person into shape” or that sarcasm and ridicule can shame someone into providing the other person what they want. For example, a Japanese woman might express anger to her mother-in-law by arranging flowers on the dinner table haphazardly or improperly, whereas the same situation in the US might include shouting. Remain open to the notion that different cultures are just as valid as your own. Recognize any distorted thinking patterns in your reaction to a customer of a different culture. Reactions such as imperative thinking are common and should be countered in your own thinking when you recognize them.

Customers who Cannot be Satisfied

There are times when you will have to interact with a customer who won’t be satisfied no matter what you do. With customers with this mindset, it may be impossible to find a resolution that they are happy with. Nevertheless, you still have to try. As with any other type of challenging customer, your first step is to remain calm and functioning in the Adult mode in the transaction. Here are some additional strategies:

  • Ask the customer directly what a successful resolution would look like to them. They may or may not be able to articulate this. If what they require is something beyond your capability, you should be up front about this. For example a customer may not be satisfied unless they receive a full year of your product at no cost. Most likely, from your position as a customer service representative, this is something you would not be able to authorize.
  • Remember if you begin to feel frustrated, what the real problem is. Sometimes, reframing the problem may point to a viable solution that you had not previously considered.
  • Offer a range of solutions that are within your purview. If they want something that you can’t deliver, offer alternatives that you can deliver.
  • Occasionally what a customer is looking for in terms of resolution is something you cannot do, but your supervisor can. However, you should try to exhaust all possibilities and refrain from suggesting a supervisor as an ad hoc solution. If the customer requests a supervisor, follow your company’s policies regarding escalation procedures, but try to exhaust all possible alternatives within your power.


Following up With a Customer Once You Have Addressed Their Issue

The difference between having a customer who is satisfied and a customer who will remain loyal can be determined in the steps you take to follow-up with that customer. Once you have resolved a customer’s issue, before you end the transaction, take a moment to summarize for the customer what the issue was and what the resolution was as well. Ask the customer if the situation is resolved and how you may further assist them.

Quick Tips:

  • Call the Customer
  • Send the Customer an Email
  • Mail the Customer a Small Token
  • Snail-Mail a Handwritten or Typed Letter

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