How to Handle Difficult Customers in 10 Steps (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 6 October 2022 | Published 15 November 2021

Updated 6 October 2022

Published 15 November 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 a retail, client-facing or service position, customers may approach you and express their dissatisfaction with the product or service. Understanding how to assist them properly can improve your performance and help ensure satisfaction. If you often work with dissatisfied clients, learning more about how to approach them can be beneficial. In this article, we explain how to handle difficult customers, the benefits of doing so and tips for managing tough situations.

Related: Top 20 Customer Service Skills

How to handle difficult customers effectively

Knowing how to approach tough situations with clients is an important part of great customer service. By paying attention to your behaviour and language, you can improve your interactions and customer service skills. The following steps can help you navigate challenging situations at work:

1. Keep your communication professional

When you're communicating with the customer, use professional and friendly language. Your behaviour reflects your employer or business, and it's always good to be mindful of your actions. To manage professional communications, keep an even tone and check that your body language shows your customer that you're open to the feedback they're giving.

For example, you can maintain professional eye contact while communicating. A customer's behaviour can be complex, and you may not understand all the factors that influence their decisions. Remaining objective and professional can help you maintain a service-oriented demeanour.

2. Remain calm and collected

Take a deep breath and tune into your emotions when you're interacting with unhappy customers. It's in your best interest to relax and make every customer interaction as smooth as possible. When you stay calm, you can keep the situation positive. To remain calm, you can practise mindfulness when you're interacting with customers. You may focus on taking deep breaths, counting in your head and smiling.

Related: What Is Good Customer Service? Definition and Guideline

3. Speak softly

As you communicate with the customer, they may mirror your body language and tone back to you. If you speak softly, the customer may be more likely to do so. This may help alleviate any possible tension within the interaction. They may also pay close attention to the level of your voice, so it's important to focus on speaking in a deliberately low, calm tone. To practise this, you can record yourself while speaking to better understand what the customer may hear when interacting with you. This can help you determine the best level for communicating with them.

4. Practise active listening

Active listening is a skill that improves comprehension and communication in conversations. It involves focusing your attention on the speaker, understanding what they are saying and responding thoughtfully. Active listening helps you to understand the significance of the customer's words so that you can do your best to make the situation better. So you may use active listening when your customer needs reassurance that you're engaged in the conversation.

Giving the customer your undivided attention can show your respect for them, and it can help you to fully understand the problem and how to come up with solutions. One way to practise active listening is to use verbal affirmations that let the speaker know you're listening and engaged in the conversation. The following are some examples of verbal affirmations:

  • 'I understand.'

  • 'Yes, I agree.'

  • 'I know what you mean.'

  • 'I hear you.'

  • 'That makes sense.'

5. Give them time to talk

People want to be understood. Show the customer that you're listening to them. Nod your head and keep an open style of body language. Give them ample time to express themselves before you respond to them. Giving them time to express their minds can help you understand the situation and give the customer time to work out their thoughts and feelings. If the situation allows, let the customer know you want to hear their words and remain silent, so you can absorb all they are saying without interrupting.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definition and Examples

6. Understand the customer's point of view

When managing dissatisfied customers, you can take time to reflect on their points of view. Empathy skills help with understanding another person's feelings or intentions. Practising empathy allows you to understand the present emotional state of the customer and respond accordingly. When you're speaking with a customer, the customer may express their frustration, and you want to hear them out, so you can help. If you want to better understand a customer's point of view, try asking questions.

Clarifying their needs can help them know your genuine desire to make it right and allow them to relax knowing you want to help. To practise empathy, try to:

  • ask for suggestions

  • be respectful

  • take responsibility

7. Assess their needs

Attention to detail is an important skill for customer service professionals. By paying attention to the details of their situation, you can better understand what they need. Communicating with them is important, but if the customer doesn't understand what they need or has a hard time articulating, you can also assess the situation.

For example, if you work in a technology retail store, a customer may express frustration that their new charging case isn't working and is defective. By paying attention, you may recognise that the charging case is not the right model for their device and help them find one that works.

8. Seek a solution

Sometimes, it's useful to ask the customer what they need directly. This can help you quickly understand the potential satisfactory solutions, and focusing on solutions can give you a better chance of resolving the situation quickly. This option is best when you're not sure which actions may ease a customer's mind. Allow them to describe their ideal solution, so you have a better chance of meeting their expectations. Alternatively, you can work on reaching a compromise, so that there's a higher chance of retaining them as a customer.

9. Ask for support

If the customer is asking for more than you can offer or you feel the situation isn't improving, it's a good idea to ask a colleague for help. This can show the customer that you're dedicated to solving the problem and finding a solution. It also provides you with additional support and allows another perspective in the situation. You may also ask your manager to help with the customer if they're asking for a refund or discount.

Related: What Is a Customer Relations Manager? (With Average Salary)

10. Maintain a positive relationship

The most important aspect of assisting customers is ensuring you maintain a positive relationship. You want the customer to enjoy their experience and return to the store to make further purchases. It's best practice to ask them if there's anything else you can help them with at the end of an encounter. You may also consider offering them a gift card or discount if you can.

Benefits of addressing customer challenges

Sometimes it may seem like a good option to avoid interacting with dissatisfied customers, but it can yield positive results. These are some benefits of assisting dissatisfied customers:

  • Learn how to improve the service: It's important to assist all customers because they can offer valuable insights into how to improve your store or service. They can offer a different perspective and allow you to avoid losing customers in the future.

  • Enhance your store's reputation: If you assist an unhappy customer and help them leave satisfied, they may communicate to their friends and family about the positive experience. This can enhance the business's reputation for caring for the customers and encourage more people to make purchases.

  • Improve your customer service skills: Interacting with dissatisfied customers can be challenging, but it offers you the opportunity to improve your communication and service skills. After each interaction, consider what you may have done differently to better serve the client.

  • Earn recognition for performance: Your leaders and managers may be more likely to recognise your excellent customer service when you can successfully assist unhappy clients.

Related: 15 Ways on How to Communicate Effectively at the Workplace

Tips for assisting dissatisfied customers

These are some helpful tips you can use for improving your ability to assist customers:

  • Consider your own dissatisfaction. You may have received a broken product, the wrong dish at a restaurant or not received service in an important situation. Remembering a time when you expressed frustration over your service can make it easier to understand the customer's position and commit to helping them.

  • Practise interactions with a colleague. If you want to get better at interacting with dissatisfied customers, you can ask a colleague or manager to pretend to be an dissatisfied customer, so you can practise assisting them.

  • Use the customer's name. At the start of your interaction with the client, be sure to ask for their name. You can say their name occasionally throughout the conversation to build a positive relationship.

  • Choose positive phrases. The language you use when speaking to a customer is important, and it's best to opt for positive phrases when you can. For example, you may say, 'I'll find that out for you,' rather than, 'I don't know.'

Related: 10 Templates To Send Apologies for the Delay (With Tips)

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