Dealing With Difficult Customers Breathe

The dos and don’ts of dealing with difficult customers

5 min read
Deborah Sweeney

If we look back at some of the most memorable videos about dealing with difficult customers, most people will instantly be able to recall a Vine video filmed at an Apple store in 2013. The Vine, taken by actress Porscha Coleman, who also happened to be shopping at that location, shows a frustrated woman with a stroller screaming at an employee.

“I was told by AppleCare that I could walk into the store and get the part!” the woman shouted, thumping her hand on her stroller handle to further emphasize her irritation. The customer’s rant, and the Vine, immediately went viral after Coleman posted it to the platform.

Vine videos are only six seconds long, so viewers only witnessed the customer’s upset manner and little else. The rest of the store’s shoppers quietly looked on in the background and the Apple representative calmly stood before the customer. What happened next?

According to Coleman, the customer was already complaining to the Apple representative for at least 10 minutes before the Vine was filmed. After the famous six seconds were captured, Coleman said that the Apple rep remained perfectly calm. She didn’t raise her voice or grow defensive, but rather explained to the customer that in order to be helped out she needed to schedule an appointment first. Coleman said she admired the professional behavior of the Apple team member — and I do, too.

Do’s and don’ts when dealing with difficult customers

Running a business of any size undoubtedly means that there will be days when you’ll be dealing with difficult customers.

When this happens, it’s important to have a strategy established for handling the situation and to make sure everyone on your team understands what to do next. If you don’t already have this kind of plan or feel like you should hit refresh on it, here’s a look at the do’s and don’ts for properly dealing with difficult customers.

DO listen

Dealing With Difficult Customers Happy

Being yelled at is never a pleasant feeling — especially when you’re dealing with difficult customers. More often than not, it leaves the person feeling as though they personally did something wrong. This is generally not the case, though. Here, the old adage of “it’s not personal, it’s just business” has a certain ring of truth to it.

This is not personally about the sales or customer representative, but rather it is about a business issue that the customer needs resolved.

Listen to what the customer has to say and to their feelings — even if they are venting — in order to better understand their viewpoint.

Let them continue talking until they have finished speaking. Pay close attention to your body language, too. Avoid appearing defensive by crossing your arms in front of your chest, and maintain eye contact to better engage.

DON’T interrupt

When a customer is upset, you want them to talk out their anger — an emotion typically considered one of the biggest bargaining chips to maintaining control of a situation — until there is no more left to say. Only then can you begin to build trust with the customer and resolve the issue at hand.

Don’t interrupt or talk over any customer.

Avoid raising your voice to match their anger. When it is your turn to speak, do so in a calm manner. Speak softly and slowly, but also remain firm and alert.

Doing this shows that you have listened to their issue and have the situation under control, which helps as your dealing with difficult customers. Now you are ready to establish a rapport to make things right again.

DO be empathetic

Put yourself into the upset customer’s shoes for a moment. It is natural to be upset when you have been let down or feel as though nobody is listening or cares about your concerns. When you work with a representative that is empathetic and expresses genuine sympathy for what has happened, you feel seen. It becomes much easier to work together because you now have someone else on your side.

From body language cues to verbal communication, express empathy and respect when you’re dealing with difficult customers. Apologize for their experience, thank them for sharing their issues with you, and repeat back what they have said to make sure you have all of the details correct.

DO Try to find a solution but DON’T feel as though you have to solve the problem immediately.

This is a controversial statement to make because many businesses will advocate finding a solution for a problem as fast as possible. The reality, however, is that every business is different. Some might have certain protocols in place for resolving issues and may not be able to provide an immediate solution. It is also important to consider the situation at hand, too.

Most businesses cannot provide customers with the same solution for every problem that they have and may need to take some time to figure out the best possible approach.

Next steps

It’s time to talk next steps as you’re dealing with difficult customers. You have listened to them and placed yourself in their shoes to better understand their situation. Communicate with the customer the next steps necessary to take — ideally, over the phone or in person so they know they are working with a real human who is invested in their situation.

Give the customer your contact information and continue to follow up with them afterwards to make sure that all of their needs have been met. Knowing that you took the time, energy, and effort to understand where the customer came from will make them feel satisfied that they did business with you.