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How to deal with difficult customers in your business

by OnDeck Australia,   Sep 23, 2021

How to deal with difficult customers in your business

No matter what kind of business you have, you will eventually encounter difficult customers. Knowing how to handle an angry, impatient or demanding customer is incredibly important for managing your reputation as a business. Even when you’re sure the customer is in the wrong, you need to do your best to ensure they’re satisfied so that you can keep their business.

If you lack experience managing difficult customers, it can be easy to make mistakes that turn a bad situation into an ongoing nightmare. Worse, failing to deal with the problem delicately could turn a once-loyal customer into someone who actively tries to drive others away from your business.

The following will cover the steps you should take to resolve customer conflicts in your business effectively.

Address the issue as soon as possible

Very few people enjoy dealing with difficult customers, so it can be easy to find excuses to ignore the problem. However, addressing the situation as soon as possible could resolve the problem before it becomes a major issue.

If you have difficulty talking to angry customers face-to-face, try scheduling a phone call with them. If that’s not an option, consider sending them an email with a few questions about their experience with your business.

The more time that goes on without addressing the issue, the harder it will be to deal with later. An angry customer will resent you and your staff members when you take too long to resolve their grievance. Ensure all your staff members are aware of this so that, when they encounter an unhappy customer, they know that they should prioritise the issue.

Allow angry customers to vent their frustration before responding

If an angry customer is yelling at you, the last thing that you should do is yell back. Customers will mimic the behaviour you display towards them. If you display anger or hostility when difficult customers vent their frustrations at you, this will only fuel their sense of indignation and escalate the situation.

This is where active listening comes into play. Teams with excellent customer service will practice active listening when dealing with difficult customers. Active listening is when you show someone through your body language and facial expressions that you are acknowledging everything they are saying. After they’ve finished speaking, summarise and attempt to clarify the points they made (this demonstrates that you really did listen to them).

In the vast majority of cases, after you’ve allowed an angry customer to vent and demonstrated that you’ve listened, they’ll immediately be a lot calmer (and easier to deal with).

Don’t take anything an angry customer says personally

When dealing with a difficult customer, never allow them to turn the situation into an argument. If they do try to argue, always respond politely and professionally. Remain calm and stay in control of the situation by avoiding any give-and-take debate. If they continue to badger or argue with you, cycle back to active listening until they realise they aren’t going to get an emotional reaction.

As a proud business owner, you may be tempted to try and reason with a difficult customer who has brought up valid points about your service or product, but this is counterproductive. It’s better to simply acknowledge that the points have been made and then try and provide them with a resolution.

In any customer-facing role, you need to have thick skin and be prepared for name-calling and foul language. While you shouldn’t have to deal with a verbally abusive customer, you can’t allow them to get under your skin, as you have more to lose than they do by sinking to their level.

Ask them how they would like the issue to be resolved

This is your chance to show that you’re listening and are willing to make an effort to offer a solution. While you can make an educated guess about what solution would satisfy them, it’s always better to ask them. If you make the first offer, they’ll be tempted to push for more.

The most demanding customers will probably ask for a solution that’s unrealistic or too costly to your bottom line. This is where you start to negotiate with them and make your counteroffers.

The solution you offer should be proportionate to the customer’s grievance. If they demand more than is reasonable, stand your ground without being confrontational. Most of the time, an angry customer will take what they can get once they realise you won’t pander to unreasonable demands.

Follow up with them

If you manage to come to a resolution with a difficult customer, congratulations! However, your interaction with them shouldn’t end there. If practical, follow up with them to ensure that they are satisfied with the solution they got and ask them what (if any) ways you could have done better.

Encounters with difficult customers aren’t just a problem to be solved, as they also serve as a learning experience for you and your team members. Evaluating how you handled the situation and taking lessons from it will help you deliver excellent customer service in the future, allowing you to deal with difficult customers much more effectively with less disruption to your business.

Dealing with other types of difficult or demanding customers

You also need to know how to deal with challenging customers who aren’t necessarily upset with you but may become upset if not handled correctly. These other types of difficult customers include indecisive customers and impatient customers.

Indecisive customers are very common, and most of the time, they aren’t too difficult to deal with as long as you provide them with attentive and sincere advice. The best way to combat indecisive customers is to have knowledgeable staff who can listen actively and find a product/service they’ll be happy with. The worst thing you or your team members can do with an indecisive customer is act frustrated by their indecision.

An impatient customer may come across as rude, but they are most likely just anxious to solve an issue quickly because they are under a time constraint. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and reassure them that you are serving them as quickly as possible.

Build an excellent customer service team

As a business leader, trying to effectively resolve customer conflicts can be exhausting and keeps you away from other tasks that demand your attention. This is why, when your business grows, it’s practical to invest in building a customer service team that’s dedicated to expertly managing customer relationships.

An experienced customer service representative will know exactly what to do to address the customer’s problem. They know the best way to deal with difficult customer situations and can resolve matters before things escalate.

The quality of your customer service team can be the difference between a difficult customer leaving a negative review and driving other customers away or leaving a positive review and boosting your business’s reputation. 

A great customer service team will also help build and maintain customer loyalty, keeping them coming back to your business because they know they’ll have any issues dealt with quickly and in a professional manner.

If you need funds to help you expand your business (including hiring an excellent customer service team), OnDeck could help. OnDeck offers business loans ranging from $10,000 to $250,000 on 6-24 months terms. Enjoy an easy application process with low loan origination fees of only 3%.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you handle demanding customers?

To handle a demanding or difficult customer, you need to practice active listening and focus on the facts of the matter without getting distracted by their emotional state. Be sincere with your responses and offer them a solution to their issue.

How would you treat a rude customer?

Kill them with kindness. When you need to deal with customers who are being rude, avoid using the same language as them and speak slowly in a low tone. Stay calm and show that you are sympathetic to how the customer feels, using your body language to put them at ease. Upset customers will typically calm down once they’ve gotten their rant out of their system and realise that you aren’t going to try to argue back at them.


Prepared by OnDeck Capital Australia Pty Ltd ABN 28 603 753 215 (“OnDeck”) for general information purposes only. Content may belong to or have originated from third parties and OnDeck takes no responsibility for the accuracy, validity, reliability or completeness of any information. Information current as at September  2021. You should not rely upon the material or information as a basis for making any business, financial or any other decisions. Loans issued in Australia are subject to the terms of a loan agreement issued by OnDeck. Loans are subject to lender approval. OnDeck® is a Registered Trademark. All rights reserved.

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