How to Deal With Difficult Customers


Sooner or later, we all have to deal with “difficult” people. In the business world, that not only creates stress, it can impact your bottom line. So what to do when it happens? Your best bet may be to rethink your position.

Identify what is actually difficult

“There are no difficult customers; there are only difficult customer situations,” says Ron Kaufman, author of the New York Times bestseller Uplifting Service: The Proven Path to Delighting Your Customers, Colleagues, and Everyone Else You Meet.

“Once you start to think differently about how to manage those difficult situations, everyone can be more satisfied and better served, including you, your colleagues and most importantly, your customers.”

Look at it from the customer’s point of view

Instead of judging, Kaufman advises business owners to try to think about how to serve someone who’s in a difficult situation. What is it that he or she is concerned about that’s leading to his or her behavior? Once you realize what a difficult situation means to another person, you can approach the issue with more compassion, generosity, empathy and patience. This is far more effective for both parties than concluding that another person is difficult all the time or is always overreacting, he says.

“The reality is that you never really know all that is going on with another person, with his family’s health or his financial situation,” notes Kaufman. “You don’t know what happened at his home that morning or the night before. You don’t really know what triggered this emotionally upset moment.”

Salvage relationships, make more money

Another way to look at it, says management trainer Cherie Tucker, is to think of every irritated customer as a “huge bag of money” and do everything possible to save them as a customer. After all, retaining customers is more cost effective than attracting new ones.

“Research indicates that customers who complain are likely to continue to do business with your company if they feel they were treated properly,” says sales coach Dave Kahle. “It’s estimated that as many as 90 percent of customers who perceived themselves as wronged never complain. They just take their business elsewhere. So, angry complaining customers care enough to talk to you, and have not yet decided to take their business to the competition. They are customers worth saving.”

Adjust your approach to the customer’s personality

Finally, your approach to dealing with a difficult situation may vary depending on the customer. Author Tom Lapham has advice on how to work with four specific types of personalities that may be considered difficult.

For hostile, intimidating, aggressive types who love to threaten, he advises: “Listen to everything the person has to say. Avoid arguments and be formal, calling the person by name. Be concise and clear with your reactions.”

Some people like to be sarcastic and criticize. Lapham calls them “underminers.” Focus on the issues with this kind of customer. Don’t overreact and don’t acknowledge their sarcasm.

Working with a know-it-all who acts superior? “Make sure you know the facts,” Lapham counsels. “Agree when possible and ask questions and listen. Disagree only when you’re sure you’re right.”

Finally, be patient and friendly when working with customers who keep things close to the vest. “Ask open-ended questions, learn to be silent and wait for the person to say something,” he says.

About the Author
Article ©2013 Northbrook Custom Media. Reprinted by permission of the Sherwin-Williams Company. Get more ideas for managing your business at the Sherwin-Williams painting contractors website
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