March 24, 2010

Dealing With Difficult Customers – Internal & External

BY John Paul Narowski IN Customer Service 6 Comments


We all have a metal list of our “Difficult Customers Greatest Hits” that often comes out over a few drinks with co-workers, but how you deal with difficult customers shows a lot about you, your company and your professionalism.

We all know them; people who rarely see the positives, only focusing on the negatives. They are nothing but tornados of negativity and nastiness and can’t wait to tell you how bad you’re performing, or how poor your product is, or even how bad your company is. They will launch into diatribes about how they can get better prices and service elsewhere and that you’re nothing but a waste of time. By interacting with these customers, you can practice your customer service skills and learn. So instead of dreading these Negative Nancy’s, look at their calls as opportunities to grow.

Test Yourself

When you head to the gym, your muscle tissue grows because it is strained and then repaired. Think of dealing with difficult customers in the same way; they test your patience and skills and then you can learn. You will learn more from these people than any manual can ever teach you.

For those “unlucky” ones that haven’t had to deal with a difficult customer here are some quick and easy tips we’ve learned from the battle field:

  1. Listen: If the customer didn’t care about doing business with you, they would have never contacted you. They are there to be heard and want to know you care enough to listen. Let them talk and don’t interrupt them. They may be angry, but listen to what they are saying to get their side of the story.
  2. Empathize: Put yourself in their shoes. Even if their complaint doesn’t fall in line with your company’s policies, try to think about how you would react to what they are going through.
  3. Never Point Fingers: Let’s say a customer is trying to return a pair of shoes. Yes, it’s past the 30 day refund period — yes they wore the shoes outside in the rain — and yes they are clearly wrong. But the minute you point the finger at them and start blaming them, you are doing a disservice to your sales skills.
  4. Involve Them in the Process: They are there to get some sort of “justice” so ask them, “What would make this right?” When they are focused on their solutions, they’ll most likely forget about their anger.

Customers of All Kinds

Those standing at your cash register or calling you on the phone aren’t the only “customers” that you need to worry about. These are only your External customers; your Internal customers include your bosses and co-workers. Just like External customers, these people come in all shapes and forms too.

Many of the same procedures can be used to deal with these happy campers too. In addition to the above tips, study your Internal customers. Chances are you will have a lot more time with them and can learn about what makes them tick.

Are they micro-managers? Do they bring all of their domestic issues with them to work? Are they not morning people? Are they impossible to please Monday mornings?

If an internal customer is so difficult that they are making the workplace hostile or uncomfortable then you need to talk to your human resources representative, your boss or possibly an outside mediator depending on your work place situation. If you’re the boss you need to sit down and discuss the issue with your employee using the difficult customer tips.

The last thing you want is to lose business or good employees because one difficult worker is making the work place hostile!

Find Your Happy Place


Work is work for a reason; if it was always fun they wouldn’t call it work and wouldn’t pay you. You’re going to have customers, internal and external, that are going to be difficult. They are going to take out their issues on you whether or not you caused the original problem or not.

Take a step back, take a deep breath and realize that you hold the key to turning this upset customer a loyal repeat buyer!

I’ve been hacking at various business ideas since I was 16. I’m a full stack developer and love crafting user experiences. I’ve been nose deep in code since I put the legos down, and built several successful businesses in the process. I’ve lost some hair, gained some experience and throughly enjoyed the journey.

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