Examples of dealing with difficult customers

No matter where you fall on the chain of command, it is likely you will have to deal with a difficult customer situation. If these tough situations make you feel uncomfortable, not to worry. We have a list of tips to help turn those difficult conversations into loyal customers.

Tips for dealing with difficult customers

Take a step back & apologize

Apologizing is very important. If you are able to take a breath and think through a series of deliberate steps, you may be able to “de-escalate” things. The key is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Rather than viewing the scenario as a personal attack, see the bigger picture of how you are dealing with a customer whose needs have not been met.

Always apologize and be willing to put their needs first, even if you don’t always agree with their opinion. If the customer is upset, they deserve an apology. It may be possible that you have a potential solution you can offer but it all starts with letting the customer know you are sorry first and let them know that you empathize with their situation.

Leaving things on a better note

When ending a conversation with a customer, don’t forget to ask if there is anything else you can be of help with. The customer may have been so focused on one particular issue or problem that they forgot about a second problem they also wanted to bring to your attention.

Asking to solve more problems is an easy way to remind the customer of any other problems, which will save both your teams’ and the customer’s time.

Show gratitude; despite any problems, the customer may have had and the stress you might be feeling, try to demonstrate that you appreciate their business. You may be surprised at the subtle way this can aid in winding down a situation. Don’t forget that they chose your business over the other options available to them!

Here are some examples of common customer service scenarios you may encounter in your business, and how to get moving back in the right direction for both you and your customer.

Difficult Customer Service Scenarios

Difficult customer service scenarios

Impatient customer


A customer who feels they have been waiting too long for their product or service. Sometimes, circumstances arise that means a customer is waiting longer than usual. How do you handle those who get particularly upset about it?


The first thing is to apologize. Next, explain as best as you can the reason behind the wait, and let the customer know that you are working on resolving the issue.

Another important tip is to use positive language. Instead of an apology like “our supplier is out of stock, there’s nothing we can do,” something like “we’re working with our supplier to get that back in stock as soon as we can”find the silver lining in a bad situation.

Explain the reason behind the wait, and let the customer know that you are working on resolving the issue as fast as you can. You can go an extra step and ask the customer to leave their contact info so someone can follow up with them when things are ready.

Indecisive/Quiet customer


You have a customer who is close to purchasing but they seem very unsure about which option they should choose.


Try to get them to verbalize their concerns. Are they worried about price? Maybe they are trying to figure out how a service visit will fit into their schedule. Once you can get them talking, you can better refine which options will work best for them overall.

Vague customer


A customer feels like they know what they want, but seems to have difficulty expressing it.


This customer scenario puts an extra burden on you and your customer service representatives to gain more information about their needs. Think about what details you and your team need to know in order to better be of service.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. A statement like “sorry, but we just need a few more details to work on your request” could be a good opener. Follow it with a specific list of questions.

why customers leave businesses

Customer is unhappy with service


Sometimes, a customer is simply not pleased with what they’ve been given. Complaints will happen.


Apologizing is again the first step to take (whether it seems like their complaint is justified or not). Attempt to resolve any specific issues within a limited time frame, balancing their complaint against your time and the needs of your other customers. Try to find a way to offer a solution. If you can’t, you may be able to offer a discount to keep them as a customer.

You don’t have an answer


Perhaps a unique or unusual situation has arisen, and you do not have an immediate answer for the customer about how to proceed. Simply saying that you don’t know won’t cut it.


The correct way to handle it is to let the customer know that you are going to research the options available and get back to them as soon as you can. It is important to follow through and truly respond in a timely manner. Even if time has passed and you still don’t have an answer yet, you can still send a quick message to your customer to let them know that you are still working on a solution.

You made a mistake


It happens sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes, but it can be especially embarrassing in a professional setting.


Put ego aside, and honestly evaluate the situation, as objectively as possible. Apologize, and let them know that you acknowledge an error was made.

Being truthful is important in a case like this. Let your customer know that you are working to fix the mistake, and how long it will likely take to be resolved. Show empathy to the customer, and let them know that you would be frustrated too if you were in their place.

difficult customers on the phone

The “Their way or the highway” (demanding customer)


Unlike a vague customer, occasionally you may encounter a customer who feels they know what they want so well, they refuse to hear about any alternatives (even if there are options that might actually work better for them). They appear to be set in their ways.


Be respectful of their wishes, and appreciate the fact that they’ve put some time into thinking things over. Politely let the customer know there are other choices available. After that, let them decide how they want to go forward. The most important thing in a situation like this is to be an available source of information. The final choice still rests with the customer.

You need to transfer/refer the customer to someone else


The customer has an issue that is outside your area of expertise, but you think you know who can take care of their problem for them. How do you transfer or refer them to that other person without making the customer feel like they are being brushed off or ignored?


The response is to externalize a sense of confidence that you can pass on to them. Instead of a deflated-sounding line like “I’m not sure, let me go ask someone else,” use positive language like “we have a team member who is great at solving problems like these; let me refer you to them.” Whenever possible, fill in your colleague about the details of the customer’s problem, so there is a limited amount of repetition on the customer’s part. They will appreciate you saving them the time and trouble of explaining their issue all over again.


The customer requests something that can’t be fulfilled


In most cases, it is good policy to go the “extra mile” and give something to the customer that they request, even if it is out of the ordinary rulebook procedure. Sometimes, though, it simply isn’t possible. For example, the customer leaves a feedback message asking for an additional service that upper management have no immediate plans to add. Or perhaps the customer asks for an extension on a payment deadline that is set in stone. These are just some examples of a few awkward scenarios where a customer service representative may feel like their hands are tied.


You have to find a way to gently turn the customer down. Tell them the truth of the matter as best as possible as to why their request cannot be fulfilled. If you can, offer some kind of compromise solution if one appears to be available. Maybe the customer is asking for a discount when no promotions are currently running. Perhaps none are available now, but you can let the customer give you their contact info and you can follow up with them when a discount becomes available for them to use.

The customer is overdue on a payment


It’s been a little while since payment was due and you haven’t heard anything from the customer.


Before sending things off to a collections department or outside collections agency, take the opportunity to follow-up one last time by phone or email (or both). Unless there are outside circumstances to show otherwise, a lack of payment could just be an honest mistake or simple forgetfulness on the part of the customer. Having that extra communication shows you care about the customer and aren’t simply looking for another payday.

The customer wants a full refund


You have tried other means of attempting to remedy a customer’s issue and they still demand a refund.


The best course of action usually is to provide a refund. It can be a distressing situation to be in as a businessperson, but you should be prepared for it. Apologize to the customer, let them know you are placing a refund request, and let them know how long it should take before they see the money back in their account.

talkive angry customer

Overly talkative customer


This is a unique situation in that the customer might not be upset with your product or service. In fact, they might love it. The problem is they seem to have struck up a conversation with a customer service representative, and they don’t seem to plan on ending it any time soon.

Not every business might find this a problem. Zappos, the online shoe retailer noted for going above and beyond with their customer service philosophy, boasted once having a 10-hour phone conversation between a representative and a customer. They see it as a badge of honor and a sign of how loyal their customers are. You might not have the spare resources and staff to allow for something like that, however. How do you politely turn them away?


One option is to shift the conversation to email. Let the customer know that the customer service representative they’ve been speaking to is needed elsewhere, but ask them for their contact info. The customer service representative can then follow-up with them at a later time. You may even be able to leverage the customer into leaving a testimonial or positive review for your business.

Very angry customer


When a customer is extremely angry, it can be the most difficult customer to work with because emotions are so high. At times, a customer is just so upset, there is no way to immediately respond.


The key here is to listen. Any answer at this point may just be seen as an excuse, especially if this is an ongoing problem. Give the customer a chance to vent their frustration, and as mentioned above, try not to take it personally.

Apologize, as always. Let them know you understand that they are aggravated and frustrated. You must accept some responsibility for the way they are feeling, as a representative of your business or product. Don’t get caught in the wave of anger. Speak slowly and calmly; do not raise your voice. If possible, immediately begin work on some kind of solution and let them know you are making it a priority.


These are some examples of how to deal with difficult customers. If you need help our Broadly customer review software to get feedback from customers before they become a difficult problem. Following a plan of action like the ones we outlined can help you handle the rough situations you may find yourself in. Good luck!

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