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5 types of difficult customers and how to help them

Here are five difficult customers you may encounter in the future and recommendations on how to effectively help them and solve their issues.

By Eunisse De Leon

Published December 5, 2018
Last updated June 19, 2020

No matter how much time you spend delivering good customer service, it’s important to remember you can’t please everyone every time, and every agent will spend some time working to assist more difficult customers. Whether it’s a customer with heightened expectations, or an otherwise lovely person who happens to be having a rough day, you will inevitably encounter customers who are difficult to satisfy. The key is to learn how to make the best of a difficult customer interaction and resolve the situation in a manner that satisfies everyone.

Here are five difficult customers you may encounter in the future, at work or on social media, and recommendations on how to effectively help them, field any aggressive behavior, and solve their issues:

Contentious customers: Aggressive Alice

Who she is:This angry customer is on vacation with her family. She was enraged when she saw that the deluxe room she booked had one large bed inside instead of two smaller-sized beds. She thought that the room she booked was enough for her and her two kids—her daughter who wants to sleep next to her and her son who prefers to sleep in a separate bed.

Instead of asking what happened with her reservation politely, difficult customers like Alice will raise her voice to the staff and call them incompetent. Tired from a long day of traveling, Alice isn’t a person who’s interested in hearing the manager’s explanation. Right now she just wants to express her anger to anyone who will listen. Like, from her iPad to everyone on Twitter.

How to deal: Whether it’s your fault or hers, a client like Alice isn’t ready to listen. But there are ways to help. Do not respond to her aggressiveness with high emotions, because it will only exacerbate the situation. Try to understand the issue: Why is she frustrated? And wait for her to regain composure. When her anger has subsided, take the opportunity to apologize and offer a solution. Do not let hurtful words affect your decisions, or your overall customer service.

Challenging customers: Very impatient Patrick (V.I.P)

Who he is: Patrick, like all customers, is a person who doesn't like to wait. The pair of sneakers he was trying on are too small for him so he ordered a bigger size. It was a weekend so naturally, there are many customers seeking assistance for a problem from the staff. But Patrick doesn’t care about the size of your queue. Why would he? He just wants to get his shoes and move on with his life.

How to deal: All customers deserve a prompt response and quick action, regardless of how difficult they are, regardless of who's done what in a situation. What’s more, it’s safe to assume these days that everyone is dealing with difficult circumstances and is struggling in some way, on some level, with mental health. Do your best to explain to the client why things aren't moving as quickly as he'd like. Through tone of voice, choice of word and phrases (authentic, comforting), and body language if you're helping out over video, assure him that you appreciate his patience. Tell the customer you understand their frustration and the heightened emotions. It is possible to reach difficult people if you can get across that you are doing your best to serve them as quickly as possible. If possible, refer Patrick to less-busy colleagues who can give him more timely assistance and more nuanced customer service.

Customers who blindside: Silent Sophie

Who she is: Sophie plans on having a makeover at a salon. The stylist asks the client what hairstyle she wants. Sophie answers “a little trim and blonde hair color,” which is too vague for the stylist.

How to deal: Difficult customers like Sophie don’t always realize it can be a problem when they’re too vague. This can understandably lead to misunderstandings between retailers and customers. But there is always a path to deal with difficult customers. A client like Sophie has a clear understanding of what they want but don’t always do a great job asking for it. If Sophie is unable or unwilling to supply you with more information on what she wants, handle it by getting more specific.

Have a conversation with your Sophie customer. What particular shade of blonde is she referring to? How short does she want her hair? Show her magazines or catalogs to arrive at a more specific hair color. Point out how small of a difference “a little trim” can make to her hair. She might be expecting a drastic change in her look, so it’s best to manage expectations early (and avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation).

Customers with the highest high standards: Complaining Carl

Who he is: Carl ordered Fresh Mushroom Soup, but in the middle of the meal, an issue arose: He noticed that it tasted like ready-made mushroom soup straight from the can.

Disappointed, he called the attention of the waiter and asked him to explain why the soup is not “fresh” contrary to what was stated in the menu. Carl also started noticing little things, such as the stain on his glass and the too dim lights. He has a problem. His needs aren’t being met and he wants to speak to a manager.

How to deal: Perhaps you ran out of mushrooms and resorted to serving canned soup. Maybe Carl just has an odd palate. Either way, the best way to alleviate the situation is to apologize for what happened and avoid excuses. Empathy is your friend here.

Try to resolve his complaints in a single transaction. That way, you can meet his needs without ignoring others and winding up with more angry customers. If he is still dissatisfied, seek help from your manager but be sure to offer a solution first. For example, recommend a different soup or offer to subtract the price of the order from his bill. Good customer service.

Customers with expertise: Know-it-all Nikki

Who she is: Nikki tries on different shades of foundation in a cosmetic store when a beauty consultant approaches her. The woman tries to help Nikki pick the perfect shade for her skin tone when she notices that Nikki was applying foundation that’s too light for her. Nikki insists that it’s her skin and she knows what she is doing.

How to deal: Give Nikki a little ego-boost by dishing out compliments such as “I hear uses this color.” Just make sure you tell the truth and you’re not complimenting blindly. If that does not work, suggest to the client that there are other options that might work for her. If she insists that you’re wrong and she’s right with her choice, accept the situation and let her be. You have done your part to provide her with good beauty advice and it is up to her to decide whether to take it or not. Even difficult customers have free will.

It's all in the customer service approach

Difficult customers and customer complaints are part of life, but so is great customer service. Always try to empathize with your client and their issue, even if they're having a bad day… and possibly creating one for you in the process. We have confidence in your ability to confidently deal with difficult customers! Have you encountered any of the five types of problematic customers yet? Share with us your experience and how you handled them.

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