Dealing With Unreasonable & Difficult Customers

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I picked up the telephone and a person on the other end of the line was heatedly saying, “You have the stupidest organization I have ever seen!” The caller on the other end of the phone was complaining about a volunteer organization of which I was volunteering for. It seems that he had three times called the membership director to get information on joining the organization but had not received anything yet.

I quickly moved into problem solving mode and promised to get him something overnight. That’s where I made a mistake. I didn’t let him vent first; I moved too quickly to fix the problem and skipped an important step in dealing with angry customers. He needed to let off some steam first.

So instead of calming down when I promised what he wanted, he just became angrier. Realizing my mistake, I asked more questions and listened patiently to his complaint. Only after I had done that was he able to talk reasonably about his problem.

Do you ever do that when dealing with angry customers? Jump to solving the problem right away? dealing with difficult peopleIf so, you’re missing one of the most important steps in dealing with unhappy people. You have to fix the person first, then fix the problem. Otherwise you will still have an angry customer on your hands.

Be sure to “let ’em blow!” This means to be sure to let them state what is causing them to be unhappy. Don’t interrupt and make excuses or give reasons at this point of the encounter.

(Related: Free Download: Dealing with Criticism )

Just let them vent.

Think of it as letting them ascending a volcano of anger. After all, when customers are mad, they are somewhat like a volcano. They climb up the volcano, rumbling and complaining, making sarcastic comments and sometimes being downright rude. This usually makes it difficult for you to keep your cool. But eventually they get to the top, blow, and then they start to calm down. 

Relax. This is just part of the process. It is a way to let the customer blow off steam. Don’t skip this step or you will not be able to deal effectively with your angry customer.

It’s important it is to let your customer vent before moving to a solution.

It’s really all about fixing the person, then the problem. When a person feels you don’t care about him and his problem, you could give them everything they want and more and he still wouldn’t be happy.

In order to be successful with that unhappy person you have to develop some rapport and make them feel you are genuinely interested in the problem and solving it.

While the customer is shouting, making rude remarks and generally being hard to deal with, listen actively.

That means making the customer feel that you are really listening to them through good eye contact, giving them your undivided attention and other body language cues like uncrossing your arms. This will make the customer feel that you care about their problem and want to do something about it.

Often the only thing a customer really wants is a chance to be heard and to be told that you are as upset as they are about the problem they have encountered while doing business with you.

Give some verbal feedback like “I see…” “Go on,” “And then what happened?” and even meaningless words, grunts and phrases like “Uh huh,”  “Mmm” and so on. This is especially important when you are dealing with a complaint on the telephone because you don’t have your body language as part of your message.


As they calm down, ask, “Is there anything else?” You want to ask for more so that you can be sure to get all the details of the cause of the anger. Keep asking that until they have they’ve completely vented and released their issue.

Try this technique the next time you have an angry, difficult customer.

Customer Service Trainer Trevina BroussardAbout Trevina Broussard

I share powerful Customer Service tips and insights for front line managers and employees on how to deliver customer service to keep your customer coming back. The name of the game is customer loyalty and it’s not just about satisfaction. It’s about a willingness to be a repeat buyer, willingness to recommend you to others, and resistance to switching to a competitor. Fortunately I learned this lesson through my 15-year corporate career. Poor service is an all-too-frequent experience for us all. I provide a framework for implementing ongoing processes that can build customer loyalty.

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