How to Handle Difficult Customers

This is a topic I’ve been asked a lot for, and I’ve touched a little on it in the past, but I’ve never really delved into it on a deep level. There’s a reason for that. While I am a customer service guru, sociology is something I always understood from a gut level, and never really sat and philosophized about it, for fear over thinking it would break it.

But, given how often people ask how to handle difficult customers, I think it must be a serious concern. Sure, the likelihood of a customer who is hostile, belligerent or just plain not all there is a reality, and of course, I’ve talked about training agents to handle this. But … when it all comes down to it, what is it you train them for, when it comes to this?

Well, I’ll try to spare you the same complications and dodge the sociology aspect of this, and just try to look at how to handle difficult customers on a real world “people” level. Because, that’s what this all comes down to, perhaps the phones, help desks and Twitter have dehumanized human contact a little too quickly for us to adapt, hmm?

The first thing to remember is that from a customer’s standpoint, the company is always wrong. “The customer is always right” is an admirable philosophy, but not a realistic one most of the time. Nonetheless, from a customer standpoint, as far as they are concerned, that’s how it is supposed to be.

This is often where the difficulty of a customer can come from. They have been angered by something that wasn’t necessarily a wrongdoing, but wasn’t their fault either. The way they will perceive this is that you did something wrong, and they have been affronted by this, as well as inconvenienced and pestered.

So, the first thing to do is to let a customer get their pent up venting out of their system, if they must do so. They may have waited on hold for a long time, and gotten angrier, waiting to unload their emotions on the first agent who will hear it. Let it happen, and then, once they lose steam, reevaluate the situation.

First, always apologize, whether your company made a mistake or not. Assure them that you understand they have been greatly inconvenienced, and that you will do everything humanly possible to send them home with a smile.

At this point, let them explain the problem. If it is a problem that cannot be solved, then first call resolution should be sought via consolation of one form or another. This is at your company’s discretion, but that is the best solution to a problem that has no solution like this.

So, it’s not really that difficult, when you consider how to handle difficult customers. The mistake most people make is not letting them vent their steam before addressing the problem. Let them get their emotions out, so they can then be rational.

If all else fails, pass them to a supervisor with the power to provide some consolation for first call resolution if you do not. This is the best way to handle this, and it’s pretty direct.


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Stefanie Amini
is Specialist in Customer Success and chief writer and editor of I Want It Now, a blog for Customer Service Experts. Follow her @StefWalkMe