How to Deal with Difficult Customers

Updated: Dec 28, 2019


Handling difficult clients can be tricky, and without the proper customer support software and knowledge, even quite frightening. However, dealing with tough situations as a business is a necessary part of the process. It can help you gauge what is important to your customers and propel you forwards, if necessary changes are needed for your activity.


Regardless of where you talk to them (be it a call, an email or a Facebook message), you have the ability to turn unhappy customers into loyal clients, one reply at a time. Ready? This guide will walk you through the steps on how to deal with difficult customers:



01. Create a plan of action


Before you begin your reply to a customer who, to say the least, is not very eager to talk to you, it’s important that you start with a plan of action. Having a strategy in mind will ensure that you feel relaxed and at ease when entering into the situation, because at every step of the way, you know what is expected of you. In this outline, you’ll want to include details such as:

  • Who will handle these cases if further escalation is needed?

  • Do you have a person or a team who will specialize in dealing with difficult customers, or will you handle these cases on your own?

  • What incentives can you provide to the customer if they are extremely upset and not budging?

Think of questions that may arise when handling difficult customers and answer them before you have to actually deal with them on the spot. The more prepared you are, the easier it will be.


It is also important to have examples of successful difficult interactions. These can be interactions you have either come across on other business’s social platforms or have experienced yourself. From these examples, you can begin to create saved replies. Saved replies are pre-created messages that you can get inspiration from when drafting your response to the customer. This is not to say that you will use these replies word by word - in fact, we suggest not to. Browsing cases and saved replies are like practicing scales while learning to play the piano: they are useful to give you a direction, but should never get in the way of improvising. Every case is unique, and should be treated as such. Sometimes, these interactions can become overwhelming, and if you are unable to think of what to say or how to say it, these saved replies can give you a good idea of the tone and language to use.



02. Listen and understand


Is there anything more frustrating than expressing your dissatisfactions to someone who is unwilling to listen? Although not always fun, it is important to truly listen to your customer. Remember, you as the support agent have the power to turn the conversation around and define the tone and energy. Listening will not only help you understand the situation but it will also enable you to identify ways that you can improve your business and offer a better customer experience. When listening, understand why your customer is upset and hone in on their concerns. Have they tried to reach out to your team and their questions have been unanswered? Have they received an improper product or service? Do they feel that your business has wronged them in some way? Jot these reasons down - it's a great way for you to reflect in the future. In the same way, don't just listen to your customers, but really try to understand them. If you've ever been in a situation where dealing with a business has made you want to rip your hair out, then you know how annoying it can be. The best thing to do in this case would be to put yourself in your customer's shoes. As cliche as that sounds, this is the most effective way to know how to reply to a client. If you can feel what they are feeling, you can empathize with your customer - and in the end, you will sound more genuine and approachable.


03. Respond in a timely manner


This is a difficult one because your first instinct can either be to run away or to dive right in. However, neither of these is ideal in a tough situation. If you answer right away, it is likely that your customer is still fired up about their current issue and are unwilling to listen to anything you have to say. If you give it too much time, the customer will feel unappreciated and forgotten about. The platform you use to respond will also determine your response time. For example: Facebook chat is instant, while emails can take a bit longer.


In any case, it’s not because you’re expected to answer fast that you should let your nerves get the best of you. Always focus on quality answers and keep calm. If it takes an extra 10 minutes, no biggy. Again: customers want to feel like they're genuinely being heard and cared about.



04. Keep it personal


If you want your client to become more upset, annoyed, and unhappy, the best way to do this is by sounding like a robot. The last thing you want to do when responding to a difficult customer is to reply with a message that feels like it has come from an automated bot. This will likely cause your customer to believe that you didn't listen to anything they said, that you have no time or resources to really look into the issue, or worst, that you simply do not care to fix their problem. As a small business, there's nothing further from the truth, so keep your customers from thinking you are uninvested by taking the time to create a personalized reply. The person on the other end of the screen wants to believe that they are speaking to a human who can solve their issues. Remember, you need to relay to your customer that you are truly concerned. By keeping your replies personal, they are more likely to calm their tone and speak to you on a human level, making the whole interaction much more manageable.





05. Stay calm


It can be tempting to lose your temper, especially when a customer starts yelling or being rude. There is nothing to gain by responding in a similar manner and doing so could potentially damage your company's reputation. Try your best to always answer in a calm manner, with factual arguments. A great way to do this is by not taking things personally: the customer is not angry at you, they are only dissatisfied with the performance of the product/service.

If you need to, take a few minutes on your own. During this time, you may want to take a quick break or a short walk, or a debriefing with your manager. Allowing yourself some time to breathe can help you gather your thoughts and come back to the task with a clear mind. Know that you have the power to turn any difficult situation into a satisfying interaction by listening, understanding, and staying attentive to your customers needs.


06. Acknowledge the issue


Now that you have a good idea of how you should respond, you will want to make sure that you include the following in your reply. Start off by acknowledging their grievances. It’s possible that you may not have done anything to upset this customer, and it may very well be an issue that you could not have controlled in any way, but it's always nice to know that you have been heard and your feelings recognized. Acknowledge the time they have spent trying to reach out to you, the frustrations they feel, or the inconveniences they have encountered. Make sure your customer knows you empathize.



07. Consider compensation (with great care)


When you've exhausted all of your options and nothing seems to mitigate the problem, you may find it necessary to gift your customer with a free sample, a coupon or any other sort of discount. Like they say, actions speak louder than words, and when you’re caught between a rock and a hard place, this may be the only action to take. Yet, it’s important to understand the right time to give things away for free. Be aware of people looking to take advantage of free gifts. Moreover, some clients might think that you’re trying to find a quick way out by handing a gift over - instead of actually tackling the root of the problem. As a business, you can’t just give handouts everytime someone complains. Therefore, it’s recommended that you only offer compensation to your customer in a situation where the damage done is irreparable by conventional means (message, excuses, etc.), or as a way to resolve a never ending back and forth conversation.



08. Summarize the problem


Repeat the user’s question or issue to show that you have read and understood their message. You don't want to start tackling the issue only to find out after a couple of emails that what you were dealing with wasn't the exact problem the client initially spoke about. Clarifying is crucial when dealing with tough situations as it tells your customer that you have listened and are prepared to help. Moreover, reformulating is a very powerful, yet underestimated, tool when it comes to any type of communication (with your clients, your partner or your friend). Repeating what the other person just said or wrote doesn’t help clarifying the situation, it also demonstrates that you're fully with them and the situation they are facing. Most people just want to be understood, and the fact that you are showing them that you care will already solve a big part of the crisis.

09. Provide detailed steps


How are you and the customer moving forward? Will they need to reach out to a different department or by your team? Are they receiving a refund? It’s crucial to let them know everything that is happening and how it’s going to happen. Be as clear and detailed as one can be, in order to avoid future complaints about the guidelines that you gave. Make sure you don’t leave any information out - even if it means spending more time right now with the customer. And finally: Reassure. Reassure. Reassure. Part of your role is resolving the issue as soon as possible, and it is important that you make this clear to your customer. There should be no doubt in their minds that you and your team are doing everything in your power to make things right. And them happy again.



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