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How To Deal With Difficult Customers: 8 Productive Tips

The customer is always right.

While not strictly true, many customers feel they should always be right. You’re providing a product or service — if it’s not up to scratch, it’s your fault. However, some customers take their frustrations too far, making it difficult to converse with them.

At this point, you need the skills to defuse the situation and turn a negative experience into a positive one. Remember, a positive shopping experience can turn a one-time visitor into a loyal, lifelong customer.

This article is your quick guide on how to deal with difficult customers. Let’s turn those frowns upside down.

How To Deal With Difficult Retail Customers: Prevention First

Before we offer actionable tips on dealing with difficult customers, it’s important to try to avoid customers getting upset in the first place. Nail down these processes, and you might prevent many of the annoyances customers experience.

  • Keep your inventory fully stocked: Using your inventory management system, make sure popular items aren’t out of stock. Nothing is worse for customers than trekking to your store only to find they can’t get what they need. Monitor your inventory levels and set automated reorder points to avoid disappointed and angry customers.
  • Establish a clear return policy: Customers change their minds, and they expect to be able to return items with minimal fuss. Keep your return policy simple and transparent. It should be easy to understand and prominently displayed. Train your staff to handle returns with a friendly and accommodating attitude.
  • Add extra staff members at peak times: Customers don’t want to search the shop floor when they need help. Add extra staff members during peak shopping periods, such as holidays or sales events. Additional support on the sales floor helps attend to customers’ needs and avoids frustration.
  • Optimize your checkout area: Long lines and slow transactions put customers off. Invest in a modem, efficient point of sale (POS) system and train your staff to handle transactions swiftly. The best retail POS systems let you accept multiple payment methods and help cashiers quickly process transactions and returns.

Preventative measures help create a solid foundation for excellent customer service. Being proactive is always better than being reactive.

Even if you’ve put preventative measures in place, you’ll still get disgruntled customers. Here’s how to deal with them.

Simplify Retail Operations With A Performance-Driven POS

1. Keep Calm and Be Professional

It might feel difficult to remain calm when someone is shouting in your face or being unreasonable. When emotions are running high, maintaining your composure can help de-escalate the situation and show your professionalism — you are in control.

Here are a few techniques to try:

  • Breathe deeply when you start to become anxious and frustrated. It helps slow your heart rate, reduce stress, and clear your mind before responding.
  • Practice active listening so your customers feel heard and understood. Giving them your full attention and acknowledging their concerns shows that you value them. You could even try repeating what they say, showing you’re listening and committed to finding a solution.
  • Maintain a professional demeanor throughout your interactions. Avoid personal attacks, sarcasm, rolling your eyes, or reacting angrily. Focus on using a neutral tone and language that shows you want to help.

When customers feel heard and can tell that you’re trying to help, they’re more likely to respond positively to the outcome.

Related Read: How To Manage a Retail Store: 6 Steps to Success

2. Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best

We never know what someone is going through. Customers might have a bad day, and their negative experience in your store could be the last straw. Whatever the case, it’s not a question of if you’ll encounter a difficult customer but when.

Try shifting your perspective. Instead of viewing challenging encounters as stressful, see them as opportunities to grow and improve. Hone your problem-solving skills, practice empathy, and demonstrate how important customer service is in your store. 

While difficult interactions help you grow, they can also turn a negative experience into a positive one for the customer. You can salvage the current situation and turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal, regular customer.

Word of mouth goes a long way. Unfortunately, customers who have poor experiences are more likely to tell their friends and family. But a negative experience turned positive is a story waiting to be told, too.

Be willing to go above and beyond to show your dedication to excellent customer service.

3. Show Empathy and Understanding

Our next tip on how to deal with difficult customers is practicing empathy. Using empathy, you can create an emotional connection with unhappy customers by actively listening, validating concerns, and putting yourself in their shoes. 

To demonstrate empathy, give customers your full attention, paraphrase their concerns, and acknowledge their feelings. Use phrases like:

  • "I understand how frustrating that must be."
  • "I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you. Let's work together to find a solution."
  • "I can see why this situation would be upsetting. I want to do everything I can to make it right."
  • "I hear your concern, and I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. Let me look into the best way to resolve this for you."
  • "I'm sorry you've had this experience. Your satisfaction is our top priority, and I'm here to help however I can."

Empathy humanizes your brand and helps create
customer loyalty. Your efforts to find a solution are more likely to be successful when customers feel cared for. You can show empathy in many ways, such as offering a sincere apology, making personalized recommendations, or going above and beyond to resolve a problem.

Related Read: 6 Retail Checkout Counter Ideas for Higher Sales & Happier Customers

4. Make Customers Feel Valued

While all the above demonstrates your understanding of the problem, solving it and making the customer feel valued are essential.

Start by apologizing for their negative experience — even if it wasn’t your fault — and taking their concerns seriously. Next, communicate what steps you’ll take to rectify the problem. Here’s where you can really make the customer feel valued. Process their return with minimal fuss and offer store credit or a complimentary item. You’re taking responsibility and making things right.

Related Read: 9 Customer Incentive Ideas To Try in Your Retail Store ASAP

If an immediate solution isn’t feasible, reassure the customer that you’ll get back to them as soon as possible. Ask for their contact information and follow up with them once you’ve investigated their complaint. 

Remember, the goal is to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

5. Watch Your Body Language

Nonverbal communication is just as important as the words you use when communicating with difficult customers. Part of actively listening is using your body to convey empathy, understanding, and a willingness to help. Here’s how:

  • Maintain eye contact, but don’t stare or appear aggressive. You don’t want them to feel uncomfortable or challenged.
  • Nod occasionally in agreement or understanding. This simple gesture helps build rapport.
  • Avoid interrupting the customer when they’re talking. Even though you might want to defend your staff and store, let the customer express their concerns fully.
  • Be aware of your arms during the interaction. Use your arms to gesture while talking, and keep an open posture. Avoid crossing your arms or clenching your fists.

When you’re mindful of your body language, you can help the customer feel at ease and avoid escalating the situation.

6. Prevent Confrontations From Escalating

The last thing you want is a full-blown argument in front of other customers. The longer customers are upset, the more likely they will try to make themselves heard. Act quickly to address their concerns and find a solution.

Try moving the conversation to a quieter area of the store. This ensures privacy and minimizes the risk of their negative experience influencing other shoppers' perceptions of your business. Avoid loud, angry interactions — don’t create a scene!

Be mindful of other customers. It’s too easy for someone to record a heated exchange on their phone and share it on social media, potentially damaging your store's reputation. Remain calm and professional, even if the customer becomes increasingly agitated.

7. Role-Play With Your Team

Learning how to deal with difficult customers is one thing, but preparing for them is just as important.

One of the best ways to prepare your team for handling demanding customers is through role-playing exercises. Through various scenarios and customer complaints, your staff will develop the skills they need to manage difficult customers.

Let your staff practice being on both sides of each situation. They can take turns acting as the problematic customer and the employee. Let them explore various complaints and customer personalities so they can experience a wide range of potential scenarios.

Provide feedback on active listening skills, empathy, body language, and problem-solving strategies. Offer constructive suggestions for improvement and highlight what they are doing well.

You want your team to be prepared and confident in real-life situations. Remember to put a policy in place for handling difficult customers, including the steps employees should take during an interaction and when they should escalate the problem to someone in a management position.

8. Say No If Necessary

While customer satisfaction is paramount, there may be times when you need to set boundaries and say no. If customers become physically or verbally abusive, you have a duty to step back and protect your team.

Employees should not tolerate harassment, threats, or violence. When customers cross the line, tell them calmly but firmly that their behavior is unacceptable. If necessary, ask them to leave or contact security or law enforcement.

Establish a clear policy for dealing with abusive customers and empower your team to enforce it. Regularly dealing with outrageous customers can result in stress, burnout, and high turnover. Make sure your workers' safety and well-being are a priority.

How To Deal With Difficult Customers: Prevent, Prepare, and Be Proactive

Dealing with difficult customers is an inevitable part of running a retail business. Still, by implementing the strategies discussed in this post, you can turn challenging interactions into opportunities for growth and success. 

Remember to stay calm, listen actively, show empathy, and focus on finding solutions that make your customers feel valued. 

At POS Nation, we’re committed to helping small business owners thrive. For more tips on customer service, check out our quick guide: 8 Must-See Tips and Ideas for Retail Customer Service Training.

We also have other resources for small business owners: Point of Sale Resources for Your Small Business. Our guides, testimonials, and videos share the latest business tips, insights, and trends to help grow your store!


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Lynn Ellison

“POS Nation saved us about 30% on our credit card processing fees.”

Lynn Ellison, Owner Liquor Stop

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