How to Deal with Difficult Customers

 No matter what job you have, you are a provider of products and services. A simple definition of a customer is anyone to whom you hand off your work. We all have both external customers and internal customers with whom we interact every day, and while most of our daily exchanges are positive and productive, we occasionally have to deal with a “difficult customer” who is not satisfied with the work that we have provided. These are opportunities to demonstrate our professionalism and establish our credibility. Consider these difficult situations as a problem solving opportunity with the goal of satisfying the customer and, at the same time, solidifying the long-term relationship. The following seven-step process will help you to create a mutually acceptable solution with any “difficult customer”:  

  1. Acknowledge the problem: Let your customer tell his/her story. Listen to what the customer has to say without interrupting or getting defensive, and wait until the customer has finished speaking. 
  2. Empathize with the customer: Acknowledge that the customer may have strong feelings about the situation. Put yourself in the customer’s place by considering how you would feel if you experienced the same situation and apologize if you are at fault. 
  3. Assess the situation: Get to the root of the problem. Determine the ‘who, what, when, where, and why’ of the situation by asking open-ended questions. 
  4. Affirm your understanding: Paraphrase your understanding of what has happened and ask your customer for his/her agreement of your summary. 
  5. Analyze alternatives: Provide your customer a solution to the problem and if it is unacceptable, then brainstorm alternatives that will satisfy the customer and come to an agreement.
  6. Agree on a plan: Ask you customer to repeat back to you his/her understanding of your mutual agreement and assure the customer that you will take care of the issue.
  7.  End the interaction by thanking the customer. 

Focus on problem-solving with difficult customers this week! 

Please visit to learn how we can help you implement this week’s Best Practice in your organization. 


1 Comment

  1. Jim Crighton

    Great advice!

    PS: I enjoyed seeing your “write up” and photo in the Citizen yesterday!

    Hope you and Sue are enjoying the summer.


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