How to deal with difficult customers

Written by on March 22, 2018

If you are in a customer facing role, you will often have to deal with people who are aggressive, abusive and unreasonable. Sometimes, due to the circumstances, even reasonable people turn into difficult customers.

Dealing with difficult customers day in and day out can be very stressful and demotivating. Here are some tips that will make these conversations a little easier and more positive for you and your customers:

1. Show them you understand

The most difficult of all the difficult conversations you could have would be with customers who are right. When customers are angry because something went wrong and the company is at fault, our immediate instinct would be to defend ourselves and the company. But this will only frustrate the customer more.

When you know that the customer is justified in their anger, the best thing to do would be to agree with them and accept that the mistake was on your side. Win the trust that was lost by saying things like “You’re right” or “I am gonna fix this for you”. Show them that you are their advocate within the company.

Show customers that you are on their side and that you are their advocate within the company Click To Tweet

2. Be quick to apologize

When a customer flies off the handle for a seemingly manageable problem, then it’s probably not about the problem. Maybe the customer has had a series of issues with your product or service. Maybe they recommended your product or service to their friends and colleagues and they feel let down. Maybe it is not related to you or your product. They might be having a personal problem that they are taking out on someone else. 

But your job is to make sure you do everything you can to make them happy. So go ahead and apologize. Even when it is not your (or your company’s) fault, you could say something like “I am sorry you are facing a hard time”. As Lo Marino from Boomerang said, nearly every customer calms down when you shoulder some of the blame.

But make sure you do not apologize too much and sound insincere in the process.

Apologize, even when it's not your fault. Nearly every customer calms down when you shoulder some of the blame. Click To Tweet

3. Set expectations

Some customers have a tendency to cross the line. They might be racist, sexist, or abusive for no reason. You should not take this lying down. Not only is it not right for you to be treated that way, but it will also encourage them as they will feel rewarded for their behavior.

Instead, simply let them know that you will not respond to any further inquiries until they change the way they talk to you. This way, they have to become less abusive or threatening in order to get help. 

However, if this is not a one-off incident, if the customer has tried to bully you or your colleagues before, it’s important that you escalate it to your management. They can make a decision to sever ties with the customer if they find out that one bad customer is affecting many employees.

You don't have to take everything lying down. Do not engage with abusive customers until they change their tone. Click To Tweet

4. Don’t play the blame game

Even if the fault is on their side, the topmost priority is to keep the customer happy. So never indulge in the blame game. Getting into a ‘who said what’ battle, even if the customer is at fault, will only lead to a lose-lose situation. You would have also committed a customer service sin in the process.

If the customer starts blaming you, tell them that resolving the problem at hand is way more important than assigning blame.

Getting into a 'who said what' battle only leads to a lose-lose situation. Never play the blame game with a customer. Click To Tweet

5. Escalate, it’s okay

Escalation is usually seen as a negative thing. In fact, the phrase “I want to speak to your manager” universally means that the customer service agent is doomed. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can use escalation as a way to help the customer quickly. If the customer is not responding to your attempts to help them and is fixated on talking to your manager, just go ahead and escalate. It just helps because the customer will feel like they are being taken more seriously.

Contrary to what the customer might think, escalation is not always a failure on your part. It means you care enough to see that the problem is solved even when you are not the one solving it.

Escalation is not always a failure on your part. It means you care enough to see that the problem is solved even when you are not the one solving it. Click To Tweet

6. Change agents

Customers are not the only ones allowed to be frustrated.

You could be going round and round on an issue with a customer without any sign of a solution. If you realize that the issue is getting on your nerves, instead of faking niceness, excuse yourself from the case. Explain to your customer that you are giving this issue to someone else because you want what’s best for them.

Resetting the conversation with a new face and starting with a clean slate can help reduce the tension. But before you pass the baton, remember to brief the new agent about everything that happened so far to make sure that the transition is seamless.

If you are too frustrated with a customer, excuse yourself from the conversation before it gets ugly. Click To Tweet

7. Establish equality

Some customers might value experience over skill. They might think that as a young inexperienced support rep, you might not be the right person to handle the problem. There are some other customers who might hold a high position in their company and would not want to talk to anybody less than a Vice President in your company.

It’s okay to indulge them now and then if they insist. But if you are the best person available to help that customer quickly, immediately establish that you are an equal and that you are qualified to solve the problem. Give them examples of how you helped others who were facing the same issues and gain their trust.

If you are the best person available to help the customer quickly, immediately establish that you are an equal and that you are qualified to solve the problem. Click To Tweet

8. Train yourself

Be prepared to deal with difficult customers by training yourself in skills like anger management, stress management, and negotiation. 

If you are new to support or any customer facing role, know that you will have to inevitably deal with difficult customers at some point. So in addition to the generic skills I mentioned, find the areas of improvement unique to you. Different people react differently to stressful situations. Some might get agitated, some might cry, some might close off and become completely unreactive. It helps to think about what your reaction would be so you don’t take yourself by surprise.

Be prepared to deal with difficult customers by training yourself in skills like anger management, stress management, and negotiation. Click To Tweet

9. Face it head-on

Don’t shy away from dealing with difficult customers unless it is absolutely necessary. The relationship forged with a customer after a difficult conversation is stronger than the ones forged out of a nice one. 

Face difficult customers head-on and do your best to turn the situation around. If it doesn’t work, that’s okay too. Because your most frustrated customers are also your best source of learning.

Your most frustrated customers are your best source of learning. So instead of shying away from difficult conversations, face them head-on. Click To Tweet

Follow these tips to handle difficult customers every day and turn every hard conversation into a chance to learn.

What are the methods you use to deal with difficult customers? Let us know in the comments section.

Brought to you by the Freshdesk Academy. For more content like this, enroll in the academy today, for free.

Subscribe for blog updates