How to deal with Difficult Clients

Updated: May 30

Dealing with difficult clients presents even more challenges than dealing with difficult employees, after all, with employees you have and added tool: we have the upper hand, but when dealing with difficult clients they always feel like they have the upper hand.

When I worked in the retail industry I learned that the key items that lit up the customer’s fuse were:

  1. A defective item.

  2. Bad service from one of the floor people.

  3. Ignorance about the product.

  4. Not finding the item they were looking for, and we just happened to be the last store in a long chain of the search for the customer.

All very good reasons that explained the customer’s actions. The points to solve were fairly simple, when you think about it:

  1. If we didn’t have a replacement on-hand for the defective item we would offer to call other stores in our company to see if they had a replacement, if they did they would send it to us and we would offer to call the customer when it arrived. If none of our stores had it we knew the competitors that had the same item, we would promptly refund the customer’s money and tell them where there was one available.

  2. Bad service is a little harder to defuse. It involves three people and three temperaments. The first step was to find out the exact nature of the “bad” service, many times it was that we were short one day and had to double, and typically, the customer did not want to wait for his ticket to be written up and the merchandise taken to the cashier. If the problem was originated by the employee, we had to find out the nature of the issue, sometimes it came back to an overloaded sales rep with two clients, and the customer did not want to deal with another employee. In these cases we assured the customer that the problem would be taken care of promptly. I sent my employees “upstairs” where the employee lounge was located, and after the customer had left I would get them back on the sales floor. It was rarely rudeness on the part of the employee.

  3. Ignorance about the product was usually due to our suppliers not giving us accurate information about the product, this was extremely rare, or the employee was new and had not had time to assimilate the information.

  4. Not being able to provide the product the customer is looking for was very rare, but it did happen. Today we have the internet and can search for the item, in the old days all we had was telephone calls, sometimes we were successful, sometimes we were not.

In short, we always try to defuse the situation with courtesy, and one very effective method is to show empathy and talk to the customer, sometimes we had something that would work even better.

And last, but not least, the Golden Rule. Write up everything, make sure the Customer sees it and agrees. I always numbered mine using the format CCYYMMDD-HHMM-nnn. Sounds complicated, but it is nothing more than the date-time-and a three-digit consecutive number. For example, the first entry in the log for May 15, 2022 at 10:15 am that was presented would be numbered 20220515-1015-001.

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