Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Sensitivity in Dealing with Difficult Customers

Customers who are Angry

Dealing with a customer who is angry requires patience and the utmost care in managing your own mood.

  • Don’t take it personally, and beware of your own defensive thoughts. 
  • Remain calm. Take deep breaths to relax and slow your own arousal levels.
  • No matter how outrageous your customer’s ranting may seem, look for and note any truths in their statements. Listen actively and ask questions when appropriate to understand the real problem.
  • Use a brief moment of silence to allow your customer to finish venting and to allow yourself to regroup.
  • Once you respond, express agreement with your customer about any truth you noted. Express empathy, and offer an apology for their experience. You can apologize without expressing any wrongdoing or accepting blame. Express willingness to find a solution.

Customers who are Rude

A customer who is rude to you can make it very difficult for you to do your job. Here are some suggestions that can help:

  • Remember that your role is to act as a partner in resolving the customer’s issue. 
  • When a customer is being directly abusive towards you, it may be necessary to remind the customer that personal attacks aren’t helpful towards resolving the situation, but this must be done delicately. When you point out such behavior, make sure that you do so from a place of calm and optimism. Remind the customer that you are dedicated to helping them resolve their issue.
  • Consult with your company or supervisor regarding business policies regarding customers making personal attacks. 

Customers with Different Cultural Values

We all come from different cultural backgrounds. How people express anger, for example, differs widely. Remain open to the notion that different cultures are just as valid as your own. Recognize any distorted thinking patterns in your reaction to a customer of a different culture.

Customers who Cannot be Satisfied

There are times when you will have to interact with a customer who won’t be satisfied, no matter what you do. Nevertheless, you still have to try. As with any other type of challenging customer, your first step is to remain calm. Here are some additional strategies:

  • Ask the customer directly what a successful resolution would look like to them. They may or may not be able to articulate this. If what they require is something beyond your capability, be up front about it. 
  • Remember what the real problem is. Sometimes, reframing the problem may point to a viable solution that you had not previously considered.
  • Offer a range of solutions that are within your purview. If they want something that you can’t deliver, offer alternatives.
  • Occasionally what a customer is looking for may not be something you can do but your supervisor can. This usually should be a last resort only.


Once you have resolved a customer’s issue, take a moment to summarize the issue and the resolution. Ask the customer if the situation is resolved and how you may further assist. It is also a good idea to follow up later and make sure the issue is still resolved. 

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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