Tips for Dealing With Difficult Customers

We know the customer is always right. But after dealing with difficult customers, you may feel like turning this “golden” rule upside down.

Mario Lawson
Mario Lawson | 3 years, 4 months ago | Restaurant
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We all know the customer is always right. But seriously, after dealing with difficult customers, you may feel like turning this “golden” rule upside down. However, there are tried and tested ways of removing the stress from these encounters with customers. Given the right approach on how to handle difficult customers and actionable steps, you can turn the situation around. 

Hence, this article aims to bring you insights and tips to enable business owners and employees to handle difficult customers, whether you are in the retail or restaurant industry. It is our wish that dealing with difficult customers won’t leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth (nor the customer’s) by the end of this article. 

The customers won’t wait for long, so we better get started.

Adopt the Right Mindset

Before blowing things out of proportion, take a step back, catch your breath, and gain composure. This should help you set into the right frame of mind to defuse this “bomb.” At this point, it helps to keep in mind that the customer isn’t mad at you particularly. Instead, their grievances are with the situation at hand. So keep these tips in mind when opening a restaurant so you know how difficult customers should be dealt.

Make sure your buttons are in the right place (far from arm’s reach), so nobody pushes them when dealing with difficult customers. This is the primary reason why the right attitude is crucial. Because you want to respond to a difficult customer as professionally and calmly as possible. 

The founder of Be Robin Hood, Ricky Marton, mentioned that the moment such customers perceive that they aren’t the ones in charge, there are more likely to leave or apologize for their behavior.  

Grow Thick Skin For Dealing With Difficult Customers

As human beings, our first impulse is to shrink from dealing with difficult customers. However, businesses like Zappos, that excel at customer service have conditioned their staff for encounters with difficult customers. Employees from such companies have grown a thick skin through rigorous training, preparation, and real-life experiences. 

Therefore the best thing you can do is to embrace the opportunity to handle difficult customers. Rochehandle’s Robin Luo shared that he had to communicate some of his nasty experiences with retailers. Naturally, dealing with difficult customers was very difficult for him. This is a particularly helpful restaurant management tip for those in the industry.

In addition, he stated that the most helpful tip he got from anyone was advice to grow thick skin. You can interpret this as to let go of fear. Hence, you can begin viewing difficult customers as professional challenges instead of condemnations. They exist to make you a better person. 

Be a Good Listener and Show Empathy

dealing with difficult customers

If you have any experience in dealing with customers, you know that people who are upset usually want someone to hear them out. Therefore, one of the best things you can do to help the situation is to allow them to talk without any interruptions. 

Carrie Thomson, the facility manager at Affordable Mini Storage, advises professionals to allow their customers to vent their spleen. To add to this, we encourage you don’t allow any form of physical violence or threats (you want to call security at this point!).

Listen, but remember to keep the following points in mind when you do:

Engage in active listening

Consciously assimilate every word the customer has to say. This is the beginning of how to deal with difficult customers. After all, can you ever hope to deal with someone’s problems if you don’t have adequate information about the grievances they bear? 

Because you want to make a good impression on the customer since this prepares the ground for the customer to also reciprocate (listen to you). 

Think about it for a sec - If you can’t listen to your customers, why should they listen to you?

Let them Feel You Take Them Seriously

A senior consultant at Prevention Advisors called Gary Johnsons advises that you let your customers see and know that you take their concerns very is one of the ways that can help you to learn how to deal with difficult customers. We understand this might be easier said than done at times (that’s why some companies use online personal assistants to manage customers).

Some of the ways he suggests you do this are: maintaining eye contact, and using proper non-verbal cues such as avoiding excessive smiles, nods, and rolling of eyes.

He also added, “Call your customers by name, if possible. This, he went on to explain that it gives the customers the feeling of being heard and also calms them. 

Always Respond With Empathy

Founder at, Fiona Adler recommends you avoid retaliating when a frustrated customer yells at you. You always want to maintain the right composure. 

Carefully Consider Non-verbal and Verbal Cues

When dealing with difficult customers, it’s not just the things you say. The things you don’t say also make a significant difference in the outcome of your interaction. You want to avoid showing signs of impatience, boredom, or aggression. These will only escalate the situation. Hence, you need to choose your words wisely and your non-verbal body language even more carefully. 

Below are some tips to guide you


In his book Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service, Renee Evenson provided a tall list of phrases of courtesy to keep you on the straight to handle difficult customers effectively. You want to keep them in your customer service vocabulary:

  • “Sir.”
  • “Ma’am”
  • “Mr./Mrs./Ms. _______.”(Only use a customer’s first name when you’re positive it’s okay to do so.)
  • “Yes,” rather than “Yeah.”
  • “Will you?” rather than “You will.”
  • “I’ll check and be right back.”
  • “Thanks for waiting.”
  • “Will you hold for a moment while I check on that?”


dealing with difficult customers

Always take your non-verbal cues more seriously. They do give away your true feelings. 

Remarking on this, Keynote speaker on customer service topics, author and trainer Laurie Guest, says, “Body language is an important tool for showing a customer you are serious about resolving the issue.”

There hostile or defensive gestures like folded arms or closed fists could push a button. 

Exercise Discretion

A discreet and tactful approach is always vital when dealing with difficult customers. Always bear in mind that there are watchful eyes with some ready to pull out their smartphones and record at any signs of conflict. Therefore, unless you are Bobby Axelrod, you need to play it safe and deal discreetly irrespective of how far your customer goes (at any sign of violence or abuse, call security)

Communicate Problems you can Handle and Can’t Handle

Now your customer has divulged the full story to you. You need to communicate what you can and can’t do for them. We advise you to begin by clarifying and apologizing for any inconvenience. Remember, they are called difficult customers for a reason, and you don’t want to bend to their every wish. 

So what do you do?

The most advisable approach is to be upfront. 

At this point, you are ready to move faster to either resolve the issue of transferring it to someone with the authority to do so. 

Here are the steps you should consider taking:

  • Act Quickly
  • Provide Compensation When Necessary
  • Make a Judgement Call
  • Diffuse Anger
  • Be Mindful of your Employees

Wrap Up

Nobody said that dealing with difficult customers was going to be easy. But it’s one of the things you have to deal with if you operate a retail or restaurant business. Just remember, sometimes positivity can always stem from even the worse interactions of life, even though using the right retail or restaurant POS system eliminates most of these customer-related frustrations. Therefore, you need to learn to look beyond the customer and the situation at hand. Instead, look forward to the relief and positive impact you can make on your customers when you handle things the right way. Hopefully, these tips will help you do just that. 

Have you had any ‘interesting’ interactions dealing with difficult customers? We’d like to know, drop us a comment in the section below. 


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