Support Snap: A Quick Guide to Difficult Customers

Support Snap: Your weekly customer support super tip

There are a lot of reasons customers become “difficult.” Chances are pretty good you have been somebody’s difficult customer once or twice in your life; I know I have. From your point of view, your anger was justified. And you can probably list right off the top of the head which companies were able to turn your frown upside down, and which just made things worse and drove you away forever. Experiences like this, whether they’re negative or positive, tend to stick with a person.

When you’re on the other side of the counter, so to speak, it’s your job to “handle” these difficult customers, and the way you do that will determine what kind of story your company becomes to that person: will it be “I was so mad, but then…”, or will it be “I am never going back!”?

Here’s a 5-step guide to handling difficult customers, from the book Customer Service Training 101 by Renee Evenson:

Step 1: What Is Going On: Determine the Reason for the Problem

Step 2: What Caused the Problem: Identify the Root Cause

Step 3: What Can I Do: Rectify the Situation

Step 4: What Can I Say: Restore the Relationship

Step 5: What Needs to Be Done: Fix What Needs to Be Fixed

Step 1: What’s going on?

This step is probably the most important! Apologize and listen. Like, really…listen. Take notes. Ask questions. Be absolutely sure you understand all aspects of the problem.

Step 2: Identify the root cause.

Investigate the situation and be clear and honest with the customer about what you discover. Explain what happened, and take full responsibility if your company is at fault. Never try to cover up an error or be evasive; this customer is already upset, and the only way to fix it at this point is to be honest about the problem and what you’re doing to fix it.

Step 3: Rectify the situation

Continue to communicate clearly with your customer as you take steps to rectify the problem. Tell him or her exactly what you’re doing. Take the time to determine the best possible solution, not just the quickest, and explain why you believe this to be the best solution.

Step 4: Restore the relationship

At this point, your company’s relationship with this customer is broken, and you should never end a conversation without making every attempt to repair it. Thank the customer for having patience and allowing you to fix the problem. If appropriate, offer some kind of compensation for their trouble. And make a note to follow up later.

Step 5: Fix what needs fixing

This step is about taking action to ensure the same problems don’t pop up again later. If you discovered in step 2 that the customer’s complaint was a direct result of a bug in your system, a miscommunication between staff members, or a customer service agent’s error, you’ll need to address that problem directly and fix it so you don’t end up having this conversation with another customer next week.


Through all 5 steps, it’s critical that you remain composed, apologize when necessary, and show empathy.

Keep these 5 steps in your toolbox and master their use to be prepared for anything a customer fires at you.

Want more?

These steps are explored in more detail in the book Customer Service Training 101.

Have you ever been the “difficult” customer? How did the company in question make things better or worse?

Learn more about Snappy Customer Support.

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