ON SERVICE || If You Can't Handle Them at Their Worse, You Don't Deserve Them at Their Best

There are some really difficult people in this world; unfortunately, some of them may be your customers.

Difficult Customers Make For Excellent Training Opportunities

There are bad days where there may be a communications break down or one customer touchpoint is compromised because one of your staff or service personnel is having a bad day. These scenarios usually trigger the worse in your customers, and on the receiving end of their wrath, you may feel helpless and unsure of how to salvage the customer relationship. At certain points during your interaction with them, you may want to ‘fire the customer’ entirely.

Now, there are a select few that do, if I may be so bold, deserve to be ‘let go’ as a customer, since they seem to never have ‘good’ days, where the business relationship is at the very least, amicable. Your dream job is probably not dealing with difficult customers, but it is absolutely fantastic training on how you handle difficult situations.

I recently witnessed a customer service scenario where I wished the conversation had been handled differently. The back story is that an upset customer was calling their salesperson who had sold them a vehicle and was asking for clarification on how to handle the paperwork for extended insurance. This time, the salesperson was having a bad day and proved to be less than helpful. What could have be en easily resolved quickly escalated due to the tone utilized to handle the customer and an attitude that told the customer ‘it’s your problem, not mine.'

There are three things a service-based business could do to improve and resolve negative customer situations such as the one above.


Most upset customers have something they are upset about, and 100 percent of the time they feel it is us against them, so they do not expect to feel heard. So what happens when you DO hear them out? The anger usually fizzles or at least scales back to a manageable level to a point where you can have a constructive conversation to find out how you can help them resolve the issue.

An example would be when a marketing agency had numerous complaints and negative comments on a social media ad they were running for a real estate developer, the community was quick to unleash their anger towards the inconvenience of construction in their neighbourhood through commenting on the social ad. As the marketing agency, the team had no control over the construction process, but they knew instinctively that the commenters wanted to be heard, so they took the conversation offline to a private message thread, and inquired for more details regarding every single complaint.

Initially, the commenters were still directing their anger into the chat, but as the marketing team listened to them and let them know they had been heard, the anger dissolved and the commenters became easier to deal with.

On a common sense level, the customer should know that directing their complaints and issues to the marketing team or a receptionist is not going to resolve a sales or construction issue, and that these disconnected teams have no control over how other teams function, but they are coming from a point of wanting to be heard (or simply wanting to release their negative emotions towards someone they believe to be associated with the origin of their problem). So, the first step you can take is to hear them out.


As I sat listening to the salesperson repeatedly declare to the customer that they had no knowledge of how other departments handle the remaining components of the ‘sales process’ following his portion of the cycle was discouraging, because it reinforced my suspicion that the insurance, sales, marketing, and financial departments did little to communicate with each other, which often leaves customers in limbo after the first step in the sales closing cycle, which is the sale.

If the salesperson had started from a point of wanting to be helpful, the conversation would have gone down a much better path, but when phrases like “it is what it is” and “this is not part of my role” make their way into a conversation, the customer feels they have reached a dead end, and you are the one responsible for putting them there. Besides reacting emotionally and releasing their anger towards the salesperson, how else could we have expected the customer to react?

A better alternative would have been to say ‘I don’t have much knowledge of this area, but I am able to connect with someone on my team from this department to find out more about the situation and get back to you within the hour.’ The customer would have felt much better, since now they feel that at least someone is taking initiative to help them, and there is a finite waiting time to resolve the issue or at least make progress.


This is why it is important to either have cross functional teams, or in more traditional models, at least have team members in the same room once per week, so they all know what they do and are responsible for, so that when a situation like this arises, they know which team member to direct the customers to, to have their questions answered.

Better yet, the salesperson could have taken the initiative to help the unhappy customer find out who to speak to, connect them, or even handle the situation internally amongst their team and then notify the customer that the situation has been resolved. That would have improved the customer experience tremendously, and all it took was a change in attitude and a tad more openness to communication.

The bottom line is, the more you are able to handle on your end, the happiness meter on the customer side is slowly leaning closer back to the positive spectrum.

The next time you are dealing with an upset customer, hear them out, be helpful, and draw on your cross-functional knowledge to resolve the issue. You will come out the other end with one more difficult conversation under your belt, and eventually earn a ‘black belt’ in dealing with difficult people!