How to Handle Difficult Customers

By Mike Dandridge

Some people aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy. These are the volatile handful known as “difficult customers.” Constantly looking for a flaw in your service, they’ll take advantage of your policies by making requests that sometimes border on the absurd. But, they can also teach you how to deliver the service that you promise. You learn more from the difficult customer than you ever learn from your most loyal. Difficult customers tell you where it hurts.

Listen closely to this sales advice. They’ll tell you what’s missing from your business and might even suggest what you can do about it. Their feedback can be the most brutal, and the most honest gauge of your success. For example, if a customer tells you, People come here as a last resort, consider the accuracy of the statement before immediately dismissing it.

If you have an abundance of difficult customers, it isn’t because you’re unlucky. It’s because you’re doing something wrong. The sooner you figure out what it is and fix it, the sooner you will bring your business back from the precipice of disaster.
Most of the time, you can resolve the legitimate complaint and the absurd demand by using the following strategy.

  1. Never argue. This seems to be the toughest rule for salespeople to accept, so let’s repeat it. NEVER ARGUE. Even if you win, you lose. Especially if you win.
  2. LISTEN between the lines. Is there an underlying message to your customer’s complaint? Does she feel cheated, ignored or unacknowledged?
  3. Appeal to your customer’s nobler motives – his or her sense of fair play. Let the customer know that you trust him or her enough to do what’s fair and right. A question you can use that takes the fire out of most irate customers is, “What would you have me do to make this right?” Most of the time, they will live up to your expectation.
  4. Tell the customer what you can do. Never say, “That’s against company policy.” If someone in authority within your company tells you to say that, then you need to reconsider your career with that company. Most customers don’t like rules. Suggest alternatives.

Most salespeople promise great service, but how many actually live up to the promise? Your customers don’t care what you have to say. They’re watching to see what you do. The limiting factor for most of us is that we don’t practice what we preach. Then when a customer calls us on it, we group him into the “hard-to-please” bunch.

The truth is, no matter how good your customer service, there will always be someone who is unhappy about something. The more unhappy customers you turn into happy customers, the more word will spread that you deliver the great service you promise while others only talk about it.

The best advice ever given to me for dealing with a difficult customer, I pass on to you. “Keep your temper and, above all, let your customer save face.”

Mike Dandridge is a marketing consultant and customer service expert. He can be reached at



very good

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