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How to Engage with Difficult Customers

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When our clients are frustrated, angry, or just plain unreasonable, we can feel lost. What’s the best way to interact with customers who are being difficult?

Making things right with dissatisfied customers can often feel like an exercise in futility. Often, the source of their dissatisfaction can be hard to pin down, and worst of all, these customers can create a significant drain on your team’s morale.

Unfortunately, problematic customers are just an inevitable part of doing business, and every industry has their fair share. But while you can’t avoid difficult customers, working with them doesn’t have to be damaging.

Angry Customer

© Flickr user Petras Gagilas

Here are a few questions to consider that may make the process easier and benefit your team in the long run.

What Difficult Issues Are They Pointing Out?

When talking with a customer who voices a myriad of complaints, it’s often our first instinct to write them off as not our target audience. Or, we say they are innately a difficult person. While this is certainly a valid course of action in certain situations, take a moment to consider whether the customer’s complaints are actually feedback.

Before dismissing a customer as simply impossible to deal with, ask yourself what you might learn from them. For example, do they have a legitimate issue with the service they received? If so, this might point to training issues that you hadn’t previously considered.

Taking a hard look at the substance of the issue might just open your eyes to some gaps in your processes.

What Does This Customer Really Want?

It’s often said that you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. This is true in business as in life.

Likewise, there will always be customers that you can’t please – but in some cases, there may be a simple remedy. By practicing a little empathy, you may find that their needs may not be so difficult to meet after all.

Take the time to mentally take a step back and reassess the situation. (This is a time where it’s helpful to put yourself in their shoes.) What does the customer truly want from you? Often, customers simply want to feel valued and heard. For example, if a customer is unhappy about a wait time or poor service, then a sincere apology can be just as effective as a refund.

Is This Customer the Exception to the Rule?

It’s often the case that your difficult customers are the most vocal about their displeasure. And when a customer’s complaints are getting in the way of your day-to-day operations, your first instinct may be to simply sever ties. Before you cut your losses though, take a moment to consider other recent customer complaints.

While not all of your customers will express their unhappiness in the same way, it’s possible that other complaints share a common denominator. This is a chance for you to identify what could potentially be a larger problem in your organization.

If there’s a recurring theme in your customer complaints, it’s time to make some changes.

Taking The Next Step

When it comes to dealing with difficult customers, it can be easy to forget the tried and true mantra that “the customer is always right.” However, despite how unpleasant these interactions can be, they may actually provide an opportunity to gain new, useful perspectives.

And don’t pretend that this is a problem that everyone has to face. In fact, I wrote a list of steps for managing customer complaints.

The next time you’re faced with a difficult customer, take a deep breath and keep an open mind. How might you use this as an opportunity for growth? Taking on this mindset may not be easy, but it may just turn difficult customers into your organization’s best assets.

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Emily Tisdale
Emily D. Tisdale is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Recourse Resource Consulting, a healthcare experience consulting firm based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. Emily and her team supports healthcare organizations in achieving sustainable results focused on patient experience, employee engagement, and marketing.
Emily Tisdale


Biz Owner (Radius10, LLC + Recourse Resource) • Wife + Mom | Mixing life + work on this previously work-only account because, well, I want to👩🏻‍💻
At-home date night watching @KevinHart4real’s Zero F**cks Given and I. Am. Dying. 🤣 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 - 8 months ago
Emily Tisdale
Emily Tisdale

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