5 Examples of 'Handling a Difficult Customer' Interview Questions

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 12 July 2022

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.

When you're interviewing for a customer service position or any job that requires interactions with customers, an interviewer may want to explore your approach to difficult situations. It's important for them to understand how you might handle a difficult customer to ensure you possess customer service skills. Understanding how to answer these kinds of questions can help you formulate an appropriate and professional response to impress your interviewer. In this article, we provide five examples of interview questions about handling difficult customers and sample answers you can use to create your own professional responses for an interview.

Related: What Is Good Customer Service? Definition and Guideline

5 examples of 'handling a difficult customer' interview questions

Here are five examples of interview questions about handling a difficult customer:

1. Can you describe a difficult interaction with a customer and how you responded?

Employers might ask a simple version of this question to provide an open-ended format that allows you to provide details about specific situations. Think of a time when you encountered a difficult customer. Reflect on the emotions you experienced, such as anger, frustration or discontent. Try to remember how you felt, how you addressed your emotions and what kind of response you provided. Tell your interviewer how your response affected the situation so they can see that you're a problem-solver.

Example: 'In my previous position as a retail manager, I encountered a situation where the customer became frustrated with a price discrepancy between our online store and our physical store. The online price was $199.99, and the in-store price was $299.99. I first approached the customer and explained that I was sorry for their frustration and wanted to address the problem. I made sure to stay calm and respectful, and asked the customer to explain their complaint. During their explanation, I recognised why there was a price discrepancy.

I informed the customer that the online discounts were available only to Premium Plus members with the store. I explained how they could acquire a membership, and that I would honour the online price for a single instance to keep their patronage. The customer bought what they wanted at a discount, acquired a Premium Plus membership and continued to shop with us for years after.'

Related: Problem-Solving Skills Examples (With Steps to Develop Them)

2. A customer demands a full-price refund for a product they bought at a discount. How do you respond?

An employer might use more specific examples of customer interactions to explore your problem-solving and customer service skills. This question provides more direct context to a highly challenging hypothetical situation. When you answer this question, try to imagine yourself in a previous position with a similar challenge. You might have experience with this exact situation, in which case you can describe your methods and explain the outcome. If you don't have direct experience, imagine what customer service skills you might use to appease the customer and maintain your customer service integrity.

Example: 'If I encountered a customer that expected a full refund for a discounted product, I might first explain the company's return policy. This is typically on the bottom of the receipt, and they can see clearly when they make the purchase. If they didn't read it, I might provide a copy and explain that discounted products can't receive a refund at retail price. If they were unsatisfied, I might explain that giving a full refund for a discounted item requires the company to cover the difference in cost. This would mean spending money on a product they already purchased.'

Related: Interview Question: 'Why Should We Hire You?'

3. A customer asks for a replacement product outside of the company's 90-day return policy. How do you respond?

Often, employers ask about how you might enforce company policies to determine what your core values are and whether you're willing and able to remain firm in a difficult situation. A return policy can be a great scenario to explore your customer service skills and critical thinking. When you answer this question, think about how you might address the customer, recognise certain emotions and provide a solution that upholds company policies while appeasing the customer's requests.

Example: 'I worked as a retail associate for several years and handled many situations like this one. Typically, I first tell the customer I'm sorry they're upset. I think it's important to recognise their frustration and validate it, because I know I'd probably be frustrated in the same situation. I also think that empathy ultimately helps me connect more effectively with that person. After explaining that I understand their frustration, I directed them to the company's return policy and told them I can get my manager, but ultimately, we honour the return policy.

Eventually, the customer accepted a store credit for half the value of the product. They were grateful and even thanked me for my help, despite being upset. I think this was a great example of my problem-solving and customer service skills.'

Related: Interview Question: 'Describe Your Working Relationship With Coworkers'

4. An angry customer starts shouting and cursing at you. How do you respond?

It's important to understand how to manage an angry customer effectively. An employer may explore your response to anger by using specific context questions like this one, that details a situation where a customer shouts at you. When you answer this question, imagine what you might say to someone who's angry and potentially being disrespectful or using harsh tones. Consider your approach, use an example of your experience and focus on your problem-solving skills to show your interviewer that you're both experienced and capable of handling it.

Example: 'I've handled a few angry customers in my previous position as a marketing manager. I remember there was an incredibly angry customer who called and began cursing and shouting on the phone. I took a deep breath and explained to the customer that I understand why they were upset. Our accounting department had accidentally billed them twice for their services, causing some problems with their billing system. I explained that this sometimes happens on a weekend when there's a national holiday the following Monday.

I explained that we were already aware of the double-billing and reversed it that morning. I told the customer the reversal typically takes three to five business days. The customer was still frustrated, so I offered to provide a credit in the full amount for their trouble. This seemed to appease them and we eventually reached an agreement.'

Related: Top 20 Customer Service Skills

5. A customer is unhappy with their purchase and starts complaining about the company and its products. How might you respond?

You may encounter a situation where a customer takes their complaints further by directing comments at the company itself and its alleged lack of care about the customer. An interviewer may ask this question to explore how you respond when someone insults the company you work for. This can help them explore your attitude towards your employer, understand how you might handle the customer's anger and learn about the conflict resolution skills you use. Answer using an example if you have one, and think about what you feel like when someone insults the company you work for.

Example: 'I worked for many years for a company I believed in. We created a service to match elderly people with transportation services so they could go to doctors' appointments, family events or even the grocery store. A customer called me once and complained that the company hadn't met their request, and that because of that failure, the company must not care about its customers. This was deeply personal for me, because the company's entire philosophy was to help others.

I explained to the customer that a single failure doesn't necessarily represent the attitude of the company, and that I'd call them back with an explanation and potential resolution. When I looked up their account, I found a computer error that showed their request never reached the dispatch team. I prioritised the request, called the customer back and told them what happened and how I fixed it. I also informed them that we value every customer and that I believe in the company's mission.'

Related: How To Answer Situational Interview Questions

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