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Retailer Guide: How To Deal With Difficult Customers?

Here are some tips to help you deal with difficult customers. It’s not always easy, but following these steps will increase your chances of seeing a positive outcome:

  • The mindset you must adopt to deal with unsatisfactory consumers
  • Words to employ (with fast scripts) while dealing with difficult customers
  • How to avoid having to deal with difficult customers in the first place.

Handling demanding customers can be a total nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right attitude and these simple steps, you’ll know how to deal with difficult customers.

difficult customers

Here are some great tips and tricks to help you better manage your customers. We hope that you’ll be able to find a way through these tricky conversations by the end of this article.

Let’s dive in.


1. Have a positive mental attitude.

difficult customers

When dealing with customers, please take a few seconds to breathe and remind yourself that they are not necessarily mad at you. They’re just disappointed about the situation.

If you want to know how to deal with difficult customers and keep yourself calm in response, attitude is critical.

The most important thing to do when dealing with troublesome shoppers is not to let them see you get frustrated. Once they realize you’re in charge and can take control of a situation, they will either leave or calm down.


2. Develop Resiliency

difficult customers

One of the most important things for a salesperson is to have a positive attitude and be resilient. You should also train your team not to shrink from difficult retail situations.

“As a retailer, I have had a share of nasty encounters with retail customers. Initially, dealing with such customers was a difficult task, but I learned how to handle them with time,”

It Shares Robin Luo of Rochehandle. He continues,

“The most effective tip that has helped me to date is to develop a thick skin. That is, to let go of fear. I started viewing difficult customers as a new challenge rather than a condemnation. Start assuming that these customers are preparing you for a better future.”


3. Listen to the customer and empathize with them.

difficult customers

If you want to know what your customers think, let them talk. You can learn a lot from listening.

“Let the client vent about the situation if at all possible,”

Advises Carrie Thompson, Facility Manager at Affordable Mini Storage.

“Don’t allow physical violence or threats (time to call the police!). Many issues arise or escalate because the client didn’t feel like they’d been heard.”

Allowing a client to verbalize their complaint or anger is valuable entirely.

When you’re in a customer-facing role, make sure to keep these things in mind:

Engage in active listening.

If you want to be a successful conversationalist, you must practice active listening. This means making sure that the other person feels heard and can express themselves freely.

When you want to make a good impression and listen more carefully, give the customer your full attention. This will help you efficiently address their concerns.

Active listening is more than just hearing what the other person has to say. You need to use your whole body and be open with positive gestures like nodding or leaning in.

Make them feel as if they are being taken seriously.

Gary Johnson, a Senior Consultant at Prevention Advisors, advises that to show customers you are taking their concerns seriously- maintain eye contact and exhibit the right nonverbal behaviors. He believes this can be done by not smiling excessively or rolling your eyes (more on this below).

“Call your customer by name, if possible,”

He adds. It makes people feel that they’re being heard and could help calm them.

Empathy is the appropriate response.

“When someone yells at us, our natural response is usually to respond with either anger or go into defense mode. Avoid these at all costs,”

Says Fiona Adler, Founder at Actioned.com.

“Whether or not you think there’s a real problem, it’s real from the customer’s perspective, so the appropriate emotion for you to respond with is ’empathy.’ Say things like; ‘I can see why you’re disappointed’ or ‘Oh dear, that’s not what you would have expected’ or ‘I can understand why you’re upset.'”


4. Be aware of your nonverbal and vocal cues.

difficult customers

How you speak with a customer can be the difference between an unpleasant and friendly experience. If they sense that you are bored, impatient, or angry, your words will worsen their situation.

So, when you’re in a negotiation situation, be careful about what you say and how it’s received.

If you want to do this, then there are a few things that will help.


Use “phrases of courtesy.” According to Renée Evenson, author of Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service,

“Customers appreciate being treated courteously, so when you interject words and phrases of courtesy appropriately throughout your conversations, you show your customers how you respect them.”

Here are some tips for customer service courtesy: make sure to use phrases like “please” and “thank you.”

  • “I’m really sorry. “I didn’t hear/understand everything you said.”
  • “Would you? instead of “You will.”
  • “Yes,” as opposed to “Yeah.”
  • “Sir.”
  • “Ma’am.”
  • “I’ll check and get back to you.”
  • “Could you please hold for a second while I check on that?”
  • “Thank you for your patience.”
  • “Mr./Mrs./Ms.” (Only address them by their first names if you know it’s suitable.)


Be careful of the signals you are giving off. You may be saying one thing, but your body language tells a different story.

“Body language is an important tool for showing a customer you are serious about resolving the issue,”

Says Laurie Guest, an author, trainer, and keynote speaker focusing on customer service.

“Nodding, eye contact, and note taking are all excellent modes of silent communication. Most importantly, keep quiet. If you interrupt, the person will assume you are not listening and often need to start over again. Patiently listen to the whole story.”

As a customer, you can tell if someone is about to attack or be defensive by the way they are sitting. Closed fists and folded arms show hostility that will likely aggravate them.

Here is a handy guide to what body language means in retail:


5. Maintain discretion.

difficult customers

Some customers make it hard to be tactful and discreet. You know, the ones who constantly complain about everything? Remember – other people might even record a conflict on their phone.

It’s bad enough when a customer gets upset and goes to social media, but it becomes an even bigger issue if the employee does as well.

According to Johnson, the best way for managers and employees to avoid shouting is by speaking in a slow tone. Strong emotions are contagious, so you must control your feelings before addressing anything.

And if possible, don’t deal with the situation on the sales floor. John Moss, CEO at English Blinds, recommends that you:

“Discreetly remove the customer in question from an area where they can be seen/heard by other customers to minimize disruption and the potential for the interaction to impact on brand perception by other shoppers. This can be achieved by inviting the customer to come to an office or somewhere quieter to talk properly, which also serves the dual purpose of making the customer feel important, and as if their complaint or issue is being handled with the appropriate gravitas,”

He adds.


6. Inform them of what you can and cannot do in their circumstance.

difficult customers

When you’ve finished listening to the customer, it is best to talk about what can and cannot be done. Anne Miner of The Dunvegan Group recommends clarifying your position with an apology before anything else.

“Once you have heard the story, ask questions to clarify where necessary. Then, apologize — tell the customer you are sorry they have had this experience, feel this way, or whatever is appropriate.”

From there, be honest about what you can and cannot do to help them. Even if they don’t like the answer, it’s better than leaving them without any response.

“Never say: “There’s nothing I can do.” That statement is like gasoline on a campfire. Although it may range from simply gathering facts to solving the problem, there’s ALWAYS something you can do. If you are a member of the team, then all the work done for the customer is a reflection of the overall quality,”

says Guest.

Miner echoes this advice.

“Tell the customer what you CAN do for them — issue a refund, a credit, or connect them to the manufacturer.”

What if you are unable to meet your customer’s expectations?

Miner says. You can’t say yes to everything. Tell your customers that they are making a difference when you have the opportunity. It can be as simple as thanking them for bringing up an issue or mentioning changes based on their feedback.

“Make the customer feel like they’ve made a difference,”

advises Adler.

“The last thing customers want is to feel like their feedback is going nowhere. Ensure that you let them know that you’re very grateful they alerted you to this problem. Then let them know the steps that will be taken to ensure the same thing won’t happen to other customers.”


7. Take action immediately.

difficult customers

You can’t underestimate the power of an immediate solution. It’s not just about satisfying a customer; it also creates goodwill and allows you to focus on other customers with issues.

The most critical factor in customer service is addressing their concerns. If you can satisfy the shopper, they might end up as loyal customers who regularly buy from you and tell all of their friends about your business.

When complaining loudly inside your store, you need to take care of them ASAP. The last thing you want is for the situation to escalate.


8. Make up for their misery (if necessary).

difficult customers

Sometimes, a simple apology is all you need to do. But if the issue was your fault and not theirs, it may be worth going above and beyond.

SEO expert from San Diego suggests compensating your employees for any mistakes or issues.

“Give them something to compensate for the discomfort. When customers complain about something, it has to do with your service or with the people working for you. If they feel that they are not being serviced properly, you have to give them something to make up for the mistake,”

he says.

“Since I was a manager, I made it a point to give these customers a coupon, discount or maybe give them their item for free or give them a replacement.”

The General Manager of Frisco Maids says this tactic works well for his company.

“As soon people hear from a free service or something they will gain from their ‘displeasure,’ then all things turn out for the better. We at Frisco Maids decided to lose some money on specific jobs than on leaving a client with a bad taste of mouth,”

he shares.


9. Make a decision: Are you willing to put up with someone obnoxious or unfair?

difficult customers

Sometimes, customers are so rude and unreasonable that you’ll need to make a judgment call on whether or not they should be fired.

You might be thinking that it’s better to keep a customer who has problems. Well, sometimes you have to cut them loose.

As customer service and speaker Shep Hyken puts it, “if the customer crosses the line, it may be time to fire the customer, politely sending them on their way to the competition. A bad customer can hurt morale and make the working environment uncomfortable. Just as bad, a manager that won’t stand up to the customer and support their employees can have a negative impact as well.”

If you’re having trouble with customers, here are some steps to take:

  • It would help if you gave them a chance to calm down. You should tell them in a firm but not angry voice that they need to tone their language or actions, and if it persists, “then I won’t be able to help.”
  • If they refuse to calm down, politely ask them to leave.
  • “Sir, I have not been rude to you, so there is no need for rudeness. If you would calm down and wait a moment, I will help with your problem, but if the abuse continues, we’ll have some trouble.”
  • “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you stay in the store if you keep using this language.”
  • If the situation escalates, call for help. Depending on your store’s policy, you may contact mall security or even the police.


10. Practice calming down when you’re angry.

difficult customers

To successfully deal with a frustrated and emotional customer, retailers need to conduct regular training sessions on anger management. This will help them maintain their cool at the moment and ensure that they can always take control of difficult situations.

“To better prepare your staff, a good strategy is to use interactive role-playing. Set up training sessions so that team members can practice dealing with angry and upset customers,”

he says.

Johnson, who facilitated such sessions, shares that staff members feel more empowered and comfortable after different role-playing scenarios.

“It’s one thing to think – in your head — what you would do or say, but it’s a whole other thing when you have to articulate it out loud and practice what you need to do.”


11. Don’t overlook your personnel.

difficult customers

A good team is a key to customer service. Make sure you are rewarding your employees for their hard work.

“Dealing with difficult customers in retail is never easy, especially if you have been trained that the customer is always right. De-escalating a high-tension situation requires a lot of patience and empathy and can even take a toll on one’s job satisfaction or overall happiness,”

says Jacob Dayan, CEO and Co-founder of Finance Pal.

“Incentivizing workers to handle difficult or irate customers effectively raises the workplace’s overall morale and pushes higher standards of customer service. You can do this by implementing rewards systems, offering employee benefits, increasing wages, or by simply giving praise.”


Bonus: acknowledge that it is preferable to avoid problems first.

difficult customers

When you think about it, difficult customer situations are pretty easy to avoid. Just do your best at avoiding them in the first place! Here’s how:

Maintain a clean and well-stocked store.

To make your store more shopper-friendly, you should organize the products. This will increase sales and reduce customer service calls.

Check your shelves frequently for inventory so that you can always have enough of the items customers want.

So you have an easier time with your customers, who will be happy because they found what they were looking for quickly and easily.

Improve client service

One of the essential things is speed when it comes to customer service. Your customers are extremely busy and have no time for anything but efficiency.

You may be wondering how you can maintain a high level of customer service while still maintaining quality.

If you want to make sure that your store doesn’t get too hectic during the Christmas season, hire more employees. And don’t forget to keep an excellent staff-to-customer ratio, so no one has to wait for assistance.

One of the biggest consumer pet peeves is slow customer service. The simplest way to prevent headaches and keep customers happy? Answer their calls promptly.

It’s not enough to hire more people. You also need to invest in training your staff to fully prepare for the challenges ahead.

When you hire a new employee, make sure they are well-educated about your store. Teach them everything from navigating the sales floor and stockroom to which products sell best.

It’s essential to hire employees who know how your retail software and equipment work. They should be able to use the system quickly to provide excellent customer service.

Checkout time should be reduced.

Customers should be willing to wait in long lines if it meant they were getting a good deal. To improve the checkout experience, it is essential that you follow these steps:

Most modern POS systems provide a quick shortcut to add items, which will speed up the process. To save time and avoid errors, ensure that you have this feature enabled.

That way, you can quickly tap on the product and charge them without searching for it.

Working in retail is never easy, but you have to be ready for it. A lot of the time, these difficult customers will also turn out to be your best ones. Click To Tweet

As Adler puts it,

“Angry customers are one of the most challenging parts of running a business but handled correctly, you really can turn these people into some of your strongest advocates. I’ve seen many cases where a mistake has been corrected, and the customer has gone on to be extremely loyal to the business and refer lots of their friends as well.”