How To Deal With a Difficult Customer

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 7, 2022 | Published June 21, 2021

Updated October 7, 2022

Published June 21, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you work in customer service, you'll inevitably encounter difficult customers sometimes. When learning how to deal with challenging customers, employees can learn how to de-escalate heated conversations. Learning how to turn negative situations into positive outcomes with the right techniques can help you perform better in your job. In this article, we discuss why it's important to navigate discussions with challenging customers and how to deal with a difficult customer so you can excel in your role.

Why is it important to learn how to deal with a difficult customer?

Knowing how to manage challenging situations with customers is an essential skill for anyone who works in customer service. You can learn how to improve a customer's experience with skills and various techniques. These skills prepare you to manage customers' expectations, de-escalate challenging situations, find solutions, and improve their overall customer experience. As a customer service employee, people can come to you with complaints regularly, so being well-prepared to provide help is vital.

Related: How To Provide Difficult Situation Examples in an Interview

How to deal with a difficult customer

Here is a list of key techniques to remember when you encounter a difficult customer:

1. Maintain professional communication

When communicating with difficult customers, it can be helpful to maintain professionalism. To ensure you handle situations professionally, you can remain courteous and friendly with customers, even in challenging situations. While interacting with dissatisfied customers, you can be mindful of how your actions and reactions affect customers. By controlling your impulses, you can navigate discussions with more ease. Maintaining an even tone with customers and checking your body language to make sure you're keeping yourself open can help you manage these situations.

Keep in mind that customers come into conversations with their own history and influences. Dissatisfied customers have complex behaviours, and the best way to navigate these conversations is to maintain professionalism and respectfulness.

Related: What is Interpersonal Communication and How Can You Use It In the Workplace

2. Practice self-control

To navigate challenging conversations, you can maintain control over your emotions. In doing so, you can have a clear mind and control the direction of the conversation more easily. Employees who know how to manage difficult customers can prevent conversations from escalating. You can identify how your body is reacting to the conversation. Breathe deeply and try to let go of any tension that's distracting you from the conversation at hand. When an employee knows how to regulate themselves, they're more likely to direct a conversation successfully and healthily.

Another component to consider is listening to your emotions. Many interactions between employees and customers escalate when the employee is not aware of their reaction. When you let go of those emotions, you can look at your interactions with a fresh perspective.

3. Stay calm

Dissatisfied customers may have moments when they raise their voices or yell. When faced with this confrontation, it's important to resist the temptation to yell back or stand your ground in response. Instead, clear your mind and control your tone of voice. By speaking clearly and calmly, you're showing that you know how to navigate situations with ease. By controlling your tone of voice, you can also de-escalate challenging situations.

It can help to remember that the situation isn't personal. When you remain calm, you can identify the cause and potential solutions for the complaint or situation. You can also remain calm and collected while setting boundaries with customers. If you have an angry customer who is acting rude or using foul language, you can set boundaries to navigate the discussion more professionally.

4. Practice active listening

When managing situations with difficult customers, it's essential that you practice active listening. This skill requires you to focus entirely on the customer and to attempt to understand both what they're saying and where they're coming from. Active listening also requires you to think of a thoughtful answer rather than having a reactive one. When you give customers your complete attention, you can get a better grasp of the situation to find appropriate solutions.

To practice active listening, let the customer finish their sentences before you speak and remember to ask questions to help you grasp the whole situation. Be respectful and courteous in all interactions.


  • 9 Ways to Improve Your Active Listening Skills

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5. Let the customer talk

You can always let customers express themselves when they're frustrated. Customers want to feel like they're understood and like you're listening to them. Use active listening techniques and open body language to show them you're listening. Give them the time they need to process their thoughts and feelings and let them communicate their frustrations.

When they have the chance to speak, customers can be far more receptive moving forward. Letting the customer speak helps you communicate to the customer that you care about what they have to say and that you want to absorb the situation before offering solutions.

6. Consider their point of view

While letting the customer talk, you can consider the customer's point of view. To do this, you can demonstrate empathy for the customer's situation because when they feel listened to, they can be more receptive to what you have to say. Empathizing with the customer also allows you to understand their emotional state so you can provide them with a suitable response.

Conversations are two-sided, and remembering how you play a role in conversations can improve your interactions with customers. While they're speaking, try to get some clarification about what their point of view is to ensure you understand their perspective on the situation. This can allow you to consider various solutions for the problems at hand. Another component of considering their point of view is assessing your clients' needs. By attempting to understand where customers are coming from, you can also resolve their issues more quickly.

7. Find solutions

The best way to find a solution for difficult customers is to ask them what they expect. When you ask a customer what they need, it gives them the opportunity to tell you how to resolve the problem. If their expectations are reasonable, you can agree to the solution quickly. If the customer provides you with unreasonable expectations, you can also negotiate with the customer to find a solution that works for everyone.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

8. Ask your supervisor for support

When you can't find a solution that works for both you and a dissatisfied customer, it may be time to consult your supervisor. You can call for support to get an outside perspective and to have someone with more authority answer questions or provide insight into the situation. Moreover, calling your supervisor also provides an element of authority that can solve the problem more easily.

Having this additional authority can help you in situations when you don't have the power to give a customer what they want. Supervisors also have knowledge of policies and regulations that you may not know about, so they can provide more guidance with bigger decisions. Calling someone for support also provides you with backup if you can't accommodate a customer's request.

9. Accept anger

There may come a time when you have to manage situations with difficult customers who display anger. The important thing is to remember that anger or frustration is a natural emotion, and it's not personal. Typically, an angry customer isn't angry with you, but at the situation. So you can first make the customer feel appreciated and heard.

To do this, you can tell the customer that you understand where they're coming from and that you want to help them through this. Keep in mind that there may not be a solution at all, but you can still change a challenging situation to create a positive outcome.

Related: A Guide to Constructive Criticism With Tips and Examples

10. Paraphrase what the customer is saying

A useful tool for navigating conversations with difficult customers is to paraphrase what they're saying and to repeat their words back to them. The purpose behind this is to show the customer that you're listening to them and you hear what they're saying. This also provides the customer with the opportunity to correct you if you've misunderstood them. If you misunderstood, they can explain in more detail to provide you with a clearer description of the situation. This can make finding a suitable solution easier and improve their overall customer experience.

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