4 Strategies To Use When Dealing With Difficult Customers

Difficult customers are part and parcel of doing business. Companies who know how to deal with difficult customers the right way can reap the benefits of high customer satisfaction and increased customer retention.

I know you’ve experience a similar situation to this. One of your important clients calls you on the phone, screaming down the line. You say hello and they explode into an aggressive state because you didn’t meet a specific deadline, or the product didn’t arrive on time.

What do you do now?

Some people will try to relay the blame, others will soak it up and put the customer first, and others might bite back with even more aggression.

Heck, you might not even know how to handle the situation.

That’s why I’ve put together four strategies you can use when dealing with difficult customers. Use these strategies to help turn unhappy customers into happy customers.


1. Understand and listen

Difficult customers want to be heard. They want to see and hear that you are listening to their problems or concerns. More importantly, they want you to do something to solve them.

That’s why it’s so necessary to listen and really understand what is causing the customer to be unhappy. Let the customer speak and get everything out, then relay the problems back to them to clarify.

Be clear, say something like this; “So <insert customer>, you’re having problems with <xyz>”. Once you get confirmation that that is the problem, you can start thinking about solutions that can fix it quickly and effectively.

Providing you listened well, you should be able to solve the problem and ensure it turns the unhappy customer into a happy one. Remember you might be on your last straw so make sure you do not under deliver on the solution.

See Also: 5 Ways To Monitor Customer Complaints


2. Show that you care

Just as difficult customers want to be heard, they also want to be shown that you care. By this I mean; show empathy, be genuinely concerned with why they are upset, and act swiftly to help resolve the situation.

Genuinely caring goes a long way to easing the situation with unhappy customers. To get in the right ‘customer service mindset’, I like to put myself in my customer’s shoes. If they have experienced a situation that has had significant impact, you need to be able to relate on their level.

So if it’s a matter of urgency, act quickly. If it’s a matter of security, be careful. If it’s a matter of inaccuracy, make sure you double check.

I’ve found that taking the extra time to show that you care helps with easing the customer’s pain and assists with calming them down.


3. Focus on the solutions

Unhappy customers want solutions. You don’t want to spend too much time on the problem, instead… find a way to offer up solutions, quickly.

This shows that you are capable of resolving the issue. Customers love to hear about how you can make their pain go away. By focusing on the solution and how you plan to make it happen, you can refocus their negative emotions towards some more position ones.

If you feel like you know what will make the customer happy, tell them how you would like to correct the situation. Mindtools recommends you say, “I know you need these samples by tomorrow to show to your own customers. I will call our other clients to see if they have extras that they can spare, and, if they do, I’ll drop them off at your offices no later than 5:00pm this evening.” This is a great way to clarify you understand the problem and ensure you haven’t missed anything.

If you’re unsure what the problem is or the customer resists your solution; give them the power to resolve things. Ask them to identify what you can do right now to make them happy.

Their answer will be the solution. Work on finding a way to make that happen.


4. Exceed expectations

Customer expectations form the basis of all customer satisfaction. To keep customers happy, you must consistently be exceeding their expectations and making them go WOW.

When dealing with difficult customers, a quick win is to focus on exceeding their expectations. Go above and beyond what they expect and ensure they are well looked after. Exceed expectations by taking extra time to understand their problems. Exceed expectations by providing solutions quickly, even if it means you have to drop everything you’re doing to make it happy.

To exceed expectations, I like to recommend these quick tips:

  • Be quick to answer customer complaints or comments (make sure you’re available on the phone/email to answer within 15 minutes).
  • Proactively try to identify the problem (eg. Package was late, you can from tracking that it was late, so you should be armed with this information on the call)
  • Offer a quick solution to solve immediate pains and overall solution to resolve the problem completely (customers want immediate help and assistance, even if it’s you just letting them know that a technical person is looking at the situation)


Difficult customers don’t have to be difficult

The most important thing when dealing with difficult customers is to remember that are only human. At the end of the day, they may be having a bad day or may be getting pressure from someone else to get the problem fixed.

Think about the last time your ass was on the line because of a vendor’s mistake. How did it make you feel? Probably not very good considering you might have had to take the blame for it.

Keep that feeling in mind when dealing with difficult customers in the future. Use the strategies I’ve listed today so you can be more strategic about how you handle unhappy customers.

Open up your ears, show that you care, provide solutions and go above and beyond; four strategies to deal with difficult customers.

Want to learn more? I recommend you read these:

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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