How to Deal With Difficult Customers

Faced with a bad attitude? Keep your cool with these tips.

How to Deal With Difficult Customers

Don't let difficult customers get under your skin.

Just hearing the words "customer service" can make retailers cringe. Yet knowing how to deal with difficult customers and provide quality care is often what differentiates a company from its rivals. Especially when you have an angry customer, your skills (and patience) are put to the test. Time to pass that test with flying colors.

With the number of digital disruptions affecting the retail industry, customer loyalty is more important than ever before. Forming an emotional connection with your customers is a necessity in this day and age. Companies that really excel at customer serviceNeiman Marcus, Publix, Eddie Bauer—know that when they make a mistake, they take the necessary steps to do right by their customers.

It's really true that good customer service can make or break a company. Customers will return to businesses where they are treated respectfully and where their issues were resolved effectively. That's why it's so critical to know how to deal with difficult customers, whether you're stocking shelves, on the register, or working the floor.

Dealing with an unhappy customer, though, can be challenging, since angry customers tend to set off our natural fight or flight instincts. Reflexively, we either want to get in the customer's face or get the heck away from them.

The best approach, though, is to recognize your response, take a second to pause, and choose instead to deescalate the issue and help the other person.

Difficult customers come in several varieties, and they require slightly different approaches. Here are a few different types of problem customers and how to deal with them as a customer service representative.

Types of Difficult Customers

  • Angry
  • Impatient
  • Intimidating
  • Talkative
  • Demanding
  • Indecisive

Angry Customers

How they behave: Irate over an issue, these customers often raise their voices, clench their jaws, or turn red in the face.

How to help: Don't lose your cool. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they have a valid reason for being upset. Don't become defensive; instead, approach the issue professionally.

Start by offering a simple apology ("I'm sorry"), regardless of who is at fault. Then, assure the customer that you're going to handle the problem. An apology coupled with a sincere assurance that you will find the best solution can go a long way.

Moreover, don't take things personally—a key component of learning how to deal with difficult customers. You have no idea what angry customers are going through, whether it's financial hardship at home, or they're frustrated with their job, or whatever. An angry customer isn't a reflection on you or the job you're doing. The best you can do is listen, assess the issue at hand, and figure out what you can do about it.

Impatient Customers

How they behave: Visibly agitated, these people want you to resolve his issue pronto—as in, drop everything!

How to help: Patience is indeed a virtue, but it's becoming less common because time is the most precious commodity we have. We live in a demanding world. We want what we want and we want it now. And what customers want are painless, fast purchases.

The key, when dealing with an impatient customer, is to work as efficiently as possible, while finding the best solution, Evenson says. "It may help to show empathy: ‘I can see you're in a hurry and I'm working as quickly as I can to….'"

Demanding Customers

How they behave: Difficult to satisfy, this person feels entitled to something that you may not be able to deliver.

How to help: Overly demanding customers can be the most difficult to deal with, since they may have unreasonable expectations. Fortunately, there's a two-step solution.

First, acknowledge that you'll handle the situation fairly. ("I'd like to rush your order, but that would not be fair to our other customers who already placed their orders. I'm sure you wouldn't want me to rush someone else's order over yours.") Then follow up with an assurance. ("I'll make sure we get your order out as quickly as possible.")

Know-It-All Customers

How they behave: Know-it-alls think they're more knowledgeable about your company's product than you are, and they're intent on proving it.

How to help: Tread carefully—this person will react negatively if you try to school him or show a lack of respect. Most know-it-alls are just looking for a little recognition, so stroke their ego. For example, "I can tell you are very knowledgeable about ___. I appreciate that."

To get the customer on your side, establish a rapport with them and demonstrate that you are also knowledgeable. He or she will be more inclined to buy into your proposed solution.

Indecisive Customers

How they behave: Indecisive people can't make up their minds, and they're worried about making the wrong decision.

How to help: Help the person assess her options—essentially act as a guide for the consumer. You're there to provide information that can help this person understand and articulate what they need.

If a customer is wavering between two products, help the person identify his or her needs. In some cases, the end result may not be a sale. That's OK as long as your customer walks away with a positive experience that builds their loyalty to your brand. For example, if you're helping a person purchase a new tablet, you might ask them what they use it for. Do they use it to play games? Watch movies? Even if they don't purchase a new tablet, you helped educate them. That kind of customer service builds loyalty.

Get a Job That Treats You Well

Sometimes, it isn't you, it's them. The fact is that some customers are just never going to be happy no matter how much you do for them. Pleasing such people is impossible. If you're constantly dealing with a stream of disrespectful customers at work, stop wondering how to deal with difficult customers and start looking for a job dealing with a kinder, friendlier clientele. Could you use some help with that? Take the first step by creating a free profile on Monster. We can send you job alerts tailored to your interests and skills; we can also get matched with recruiters in your industry. Let us take some of the difficulty out of the search. That's our version of good customer service to you.