Dealing With Difficult Customers

An easy to please customer is what every business owner hopes for and works hard to keep. But inevitably, one — or more — come along that are difficult, if not impossible, to please. The customer may in fact place unrealistic demands on your business. 

What can you do to try and turn that customer’s opinion around and if you don’t seem to be able to do that, at least work within the parameters of what you can control.

Consider the following tips: 

1. Keep Emotions in Check 

It’s perfectly natural to feel upset or angry, but remember to stay calm and diplomatic, as your reputation and that of your employees is at stake. Concentrate on listening with a non-defensive attitude. Try your best to overcome the negatives you may be hearing and lead with solutions versus reasons why something may have happened. And it goes without saying that you should promise only what you can deliver.

2. Why is the Customer Unhappy?

The first step toward fully understanding why a customer is unhappy is to find out why and what happened to cause this unhappiness. In this way, you’ll be better able to change the perception of your company and its products and services. You’ll need to ask targeted questions — and determine how you can find a solution or resolve the issues.  You never know, it may be s simple misunderstanding or communication breakdown. What you learn will be invaluable to the success of your business and may even help with other customers. You may find out that a process needs updating or changing or some other solutions that’s in your control.  Take notes during the discussion, whether it’s in person, on the phone or online.

Approach the discussion delicately and compassionately. For example, you might say: “Thanks for pointing out the issues you’ve experienced. Your business is very important to us and we value you as a customer.  We very much want to make this right.” Acknowledge how the customer feels, show compassion and understanding and keep the conversation proactive. Sometimes an open conversation is all it takes to make things right. 

Use a presentation board or other tool to communicate success stories to the team. This helps with morale and getting everyone committed to making all customers happy ones. Post content on your company intranet site or send email updates about what’s happening.

3. Put Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes

Empathy goes a long way toward improving interpersonal relationships and the customer/company relationship is no different. Listen carefully to what the customer is telling you and consider how you’d want to be treated if the roles were reversed. It’s the old “what if the shoe was on the other foot?” metaphor that’s so important here.

“Accept what the customer says at face value, even if you think he or she is wrong,” writes Rhett Power, co-founder of online toy company Wild Creations, on “He thinks he’s right, and perception is the most important thing. If he perceives that you accept and believe him, he will be more likely to relax and get to the point.”

Set yourself reminder dates in a planner or calendar to follow up with each customer.

4. Act Quickly to Solve the Problem

Once you’ve listened to the customer and considered his or her perspective, figure out how to fix the issue — and do it quickly. Research has shown that the vast majority of unhappy customers will return to a business if problems are resolved quickly. They may even become your best brand ambassador. You might ask the customer, “How would you like to see this resolved?” Once you hear the suggestions, be honest about how you can solve the problem and move forward. If you need to get back to the customer at a later date, be sure to communicate that as well.

Each customer relationship is unique. The important thing is that you follow up with customers in a timely fashion to ensure their satisfaction is met. 

Of course, keep the bigger picture in mind – it may be that you can’t salvage the relationship, but knowing you did your best to solve the problem is really all you can ask. And again, keep in mind another time-honored adage – do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. 

About the Author 

Kelly Spors is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis. She previously worked as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering small business and entrepreneurship.



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