How to Deal with Difficult Customers [6 Steps]

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Customer Experience : 8 min read

How to Deal with Difficult Customers [6 Steps]

Have you ever come across a customer that you just couldn’t please?

No matter what you said or did, it was never enough. They complained about your business, about your product, even a little about you.

In the end, you may have been able to fix the problem they were facing. But dealing with difficult customers often leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Unfortunately, everyone that interacts with customers has to deal with unhappy customers every once in a while.

But there’s good news: there is a way to talk to difficult customers. By following these steps, you can resolve customers' problems efficiently, effectively—and with minimal stress on your mental and emotional health.

In this post, we’re going to talk about:

Avoid making these mistakes when dealing with difficult customers:

Never address the problem without getting all the facts.

Before a doctor can prescribe the right treatment, they need to know more than just what’s hurting you right now—they also need to take a look at your medical history.

In the same way, before you can solve the problems plaguing a difficult customer, you need to understand their history with your business.

Start by taking down important information such as their name, company, and how long they’ve been using your product.

Next, it’s time to dive into the information stored so conveniently in your CRM. (You should always have your customer histories recorded somewhere that’s accessible to everyone on your team—usually, that would be a CRM. This makes it much, much easier for you to provide awesome customer support.)

In Copper, you can use the search feature to get to the right information quickly.

Pro-tip: Filter results to just show people or companies, that way you’ll only see the result you’re looking for:

filtering customers in copper crm

Next, click into that contact and check out any information that’s been logged. Scroll through the activity logs to see the interactions that other members of your team have had with this customer:

customer records in copper crm

This will give you valuable insight into this customer and their previous interactions with your company. For example, if this is a problem they’ve faced in the past, you can check the logged activity and avoid asking them repetitive questions they’ve already answered with another customer service rep.

Pro-tip

Know thy customer. 🔍

Learn how to collect and use information about your customers to build stronger relationships with this handbook.

Be careful not to get defensive.

When a customer is upset, they may blame your company, your product, or even you for the issues they’re facing.

In that moment, it’s all too easy to feel like you’re under attack.

But when you get personally offended by a customer, then the focus is on your feelings instead of how to actually help them solve their problem—which can leave the customer with a bad impression of your company.

This is almost never a good position for a customer service rep, and could escalate the situation.

So, don’t let their words affect you personally. Granted, this is easier said than done, but it can help to imagine the situation from their point of view, or remember that this person may have other issues in their work or personal life that is making them react this way.

Don’t worry about defending your company’s reputation (or your own). Right now, just listen to what they have to say, and focus on providing a solution.

That way, you can make sure a difficult customer doesn’t become an angry customer.

Avoid slapping together a quick solution.

When you’re on a call or in a meeting with a difficult customer, you may feel under pressure to provide an immediate solution to their problem.

But sticking a Band-Aid on a broken bone won’t heal it.

Instead of just coming up with a quick fix for a problem, take the time to provide a solution that will actually address the root of the issue.

This involves taking time to listen to your customer explain the problem, delve into the reason this issue came up, and explore different options for a solution.

For example, let’s say you sell an accounting software, and your customer is upset because they can’t figure out how to create custom fields for their expenses. A quick solution would be for the customer to use the ‘miscellaneous’ field for expenses that don’t fit into the default fields.

However, a better (albeit more time-consuming) solution would be to teach the customer how to create and use custom fields, or set up a training session for their team.

While this process may annoy an impatient customer, they’ll see that the end result was worth their time.

Don’t write them off too soon.

Sometimes you might feel like it’s a waste of your time to deal with a difficult customer, especially when the same one keeps coming back to you with different issues.

But remember: this customer is immensely valuable to your business.

A customer who comes to you with problems is actually using your product. They care about it, and they want to use it successfully.

Already, that customer has more value than a customer who is disengaged and not using your product at all.

The fact that they’re coming to you for answers means they want to continue using the product, and they trust that you’ll be able to help them.

If you successfully answer their questions and help them see real results with your product, you’ll build loyalty and improve customer retention.

Remember that you don’t have to handle problems alone.

Sometimes, a customer has really found themselves in a sticky situation, and you’re not sure how to get them out.

Again, don’t just stick a bandage on this problem and hope for the best.

Instead, look for advice from someone who will be able to solve this problem. Remember that you work as part of a team, and everyone has the same goal: to improve the lives of your customers.

For example, imagine a customer is frustrated because your product doesn’t include a certain feature they need to accomplish their goal. Obviously, it’s not in your power to change the product. But maybe your product can integrate with another product the customer uses to accomplish that goal.

If you’re not sure how to proceed, get in contact with someone from your team who is more familiar with the integrations your product provides. That way, you can provide a reasonable solution that satisfies the customer.

This is another scenario where having a CRM is very helpful because you can reach out quickly to another member of the team and ask for advice, and that communication would be visible to everyone. Anyone can jump in to help!

team collaboration in copper crm

In Copper, all you have to do is log the activity and tag a team member in the comments. Then, they’ll be able to respond with their thoughts.

Now that you know what not to do, let’s talk about what you can do to successfully deal with difficult customers.

Try this six-step process to deal with difficult customers:

1. Always, always stay calm.

An ancient proverb says: “A mild answer turns away rage, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

If someone takes a belligerent or harsh tone with you, it’s almost a natural reaction to match their tone of voice or volume.

However, this can easily cause a difficult customer to escalate into an angry customer.

Instead, always respond in a calm voice, and keep your volume in check. By responding calmly, you can diffuse the situation and make the customer feel less defensive or angry.

2. Gather information without placing blame.

To deal with a difficult customer, you need to be patient and listen to what they have to say. Show them that you’re ready to understand their problem and help them solve it by using a phrase such as:

  • “Let’s go over what happened.”
  • “Can you help me understand exactly what happened?”

As the customer talks, avoid the temptation to interrupt them, and don’t ask any questions until they’ve finished explaining everything to you.

But, what if the customer is chatty? How can you ask questions and get the information you need without launching them into another monologue?

Try to use multiple-choice questions to guide the conversation.

Avoid asking general questions such as “How is this problem affecting your team?” Instead, give them multiple answers to choose from: “Is this problem making your team work slower, or have they actually stopped using the product?”

Giving them multiple choices helps you get the information you need to come up with a solution, but doesn’t give them the chance to ramble.

While you’re listening, it’s also important to avoid blaming the customer for the problem they’re having.

For example, imagine a customer is disappointed with your product. In this situation, it’s easy to blame the customer: they should’ve done their research more thoroughly before purchasing. They should’ve thought about how many users they would need before signing up for the ‘Basic’ package. They should’ve thought about whether they could afford the product after the discount period ended.

All valid points. However, that kind of thinking is not constructive in this situation.

When you’re gathering information, focus on understanding the problem at hand with the goal of finding a solution that makes the customer as happy as possible.

3. Help customers feel understood.

When you feel like you have a solid grasp of the issue at hand, you can use a simple psychological trick to make them feel understood.

All you have to do is repeat back what they just told you, in your own words. If you were listening, it shouldn't be hard. It can go something like this:

“So, from what I understand, you’ve lost some of the location data that was stored in our program, and now some of your shipments are going to be late. Is that correct?”

This method is called reflective listening, and helps the other person feel understood. It also shows that you’re both on the same page, and is a good baseline for you to make sure that the solutions that you’re about to offer match up with the problem they need to solve.

4. Find their desired outcome.

Once you understand the issue, it’s important to also understand what’s really bothering this customer. Many times, when a customer becomes difficult, it’s because the issue has affected their business or life in some way.

It’s your job to understand how they were affected, and what you can do to make it right.

So, start by figuring out what’s frustrating them. For example, the problem may be that your presentation software is malfunctioning in some way. But the customer may really be frustrated because that issue caused a problem during a presentation in front of their boss.

To find the root of their frustration, ask questions.

  • “How have your team’s sales been affected by this problem?”
  • “How has your team’s productivity been affected by this issue?”

Then, try to understand what their desired outcome is:

  • “What needs to happen for you to feel like this problem has been solved?”
  • “In your opinion, what would be the best outcome in this situation?”

By digging deeper with questions like these, you’ll be better equipped to present a solution that satisfies the customer.

5. Present a reasonable, step-by-step solution.

Never sign off without detailing a clear plan to solve the problem.

If you already know what the solution will be, great! Now it’s time to explain exactly what you plan to do, and how it will satisfy this customer’s needs.

“I’m sorry you’ve been having issues setting up the custom fields in our product. Let’s go into the program together right now, and I’ll take you through the process of editing the custom fields. Then we can create some items to test how the custom fields show up in your reports. After this call is finished, I’ll also send you an email with all of the steps listed, and next week I’ll check in to see how the new custom fields are working for you. Does that sound alright?”

By detailing each step, the customer understands exactly what’s involved and how the problem will be solved.

However, there may be situations when the solution isn’t immediately apparent. In these cases, you may need to work on a solution and call the customer back later.

If this is the case, make sure the customer understands exactly what you’re planning to do, and how long they’ll need to wait for you to follow up.

“I’m so sorry you’ve been having this issue with our platform. Right now I can’t see any issues with your account, so I’m going to dig into some previous logs to see if I can figure out what’s causing this issue. It should take me no more than an hour, so I’ll call you back around 4:00 PM to update you on the situation. Thanks so much for your patience!”

Always follow your plan to solve the problem for this client, and give them reasonable expectations.

Of course, if there’s a problem that you can’t fix in the moment, be honest.

For example, let’s say a customer has called to complain about a bug or an outage in your services. The best way to proceed is to be transparent. Avoid the temptation to blame the customer or downplay the situation. Listen to their concerns, and offer a sincere apology before you go into any kind of solution.

This honesty will put the customer at ease and open them up to hearing about the solutions you have to offer.

Walk them through what happened to cause the outage, and then explain the specific steps your company is taking to solve the problem.

6. Follow up with your customer to make sure they’re happy.

Immediately after you get off the phone with the customer, it’s time to log in that data to your CRM. Write down the problem that was discussed, the effects the issue had on the company, and any steps that you took to solve the problem.

Next, add a new task to this person’s profile in your CRM, and set a reminder to follow up later and see how the solution is working for them. For example, in Copper your tasks will automatically show up in your Google Calendar:

follow up tasks in copper crm

By following up within a week or two, you can give the customer enough time to try out your solution and see if it works. This kind of follow-up shows that you care about their experience, and will help build loyalty towards your brand.

Dealing with difficult customers doesn’t always have to be difficult.

True, it may not be easy. But if you learn how to deal with difficult customers using the methods we’ve discussed above, your customer service calls will go much smoother and you’ll help customers build loyalty for your brand.

One of the most important steps is to stay calm, and don’t let a difficult customer’s words affect you personally. By handling the situation with mildness and expertise, you’ll prevent a difficult customer from becoming an angry customer.

With practice, you can deal with difficult customers successfully.