Dealing with Difficult Customers


As much as we wish that every customer was a pleasant and considerate patron, some people are inevitably going to be difficult. How to handle these problematic customers can affect your business’ reputation, your staff’s satisfaction and the likelihood that you’ll be able to resolve conflicts with customers. Here are some simple strategies for handling a variety of difficult clients.

Dealing with angry customers

If a customer is raising their voice and making angry accusations, ignoring or dismissing them won’t make them go away; it’ll just agitate them even more and exacerbate their aggression. The most effective way to calm them down to a point you can engage with them reasonably is to listen and show empathy toward their frustration — even if you don’t agree with it.

“All they hear from your impatience is that they’re not being heard. Try just letting them get it all out. Listen patiently to what they have to say,” recommends Michael Hoon of The Job Network. “Whatever their problem, they really want you to understand and help them … Express your genuine regret that they’re having a rough time, and show an honest willingness to help.”

By making eye contact, nodding your head and showing engaged body language, you’ll begin establishing trust with the customer. Restate their concerns to ensure you understand what they’re frustrated about and to let them see that you understand their perspective. Now you’ll be prepared to better address their underlying frustration, and they’ll be more likely to listen to you.

Dealing with time-wasting customers

High-maintenance clients can waste a lot of your employees’ valuable time. While it’s important to keep those customers happy in order to keep their business, it’s also important to establish boundaries so they don’t affect your staff’s productivity or usurp their time from helping other clients. If a particular patron is frequently hijacking your staff’s time with sudden demands, insignificant complaints or incessant questions, you need to set clear expectations and enforce boundaries.

“Whenever customers engage in endless small talk, offer a legitimate reason for needing to end the conversation quickly, such as, ‘I have a customer appointment in five minutes,’” recommends Mark Holmes of Small Business Journal. “This helps smooth over the customer’s feelings and lets you juggle multiple customer needs.” Mark also recommends to set availability expectations using customer-benefit language.

You can also gently coach your customers on how to find answers or solve problems without having to rely on you to do it for them. If their situation can easily be fixed with a quick web search or reading directions, show them how they can find this information themselves.

Dealing with customers who get too personal

Difficult customers aren’t just unhappy customers; they could also like you too much or not know how to behave appropriately with your staff. They call or visit often to chat with certain staff members, ask them invasive questions, bring up inappropriate subjects in conversation or invite themselves to hang out. If an employee feels uncomfortable with one of your customers who is getting too personal with them, you need to address and redirect that behavior.

“The best strategy is to be open with the client when they cross that line. They may not be aware of how invasive their actions are. Give them fair warning that their behavior is not okay with you,” recommends the staff at Home Advisor. “If they continue to cross your boundaries, hold your ground and take measures to stop them.”

Make sure your staff knows what is friendly and what is inappropriate — and if a customer crosses that line, kindly but firmly redirect them. Of course, if this intrusive behavior involves any form of sexual harassment — including verbal — management needs to confront the patron immediately.

Handling a difficult customer isn’t an easy task; it can be emotionally draining and psychologically distressing. So in the aftermath of any difficult confrontation, don’t forget to support your team members. When your staff has an upsetting interaction with a customer, make sure you’re there to reassure them afterward.

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