How to deal with difficult clients

Drew Stevens

This article was reprinted from the Stevens Consulting Group blog with the permission of Drew Stevens. For more on Drew Stevens and Stevens Consulting Group, check out Drew's bio below, or click here to visit the blog.


If we keep in mind that the purpose of business is to acquire and retain customers this will ensure that our culture and our employees will always focus on customer service excellence. Yet for the amount of time and concentration in customer service sometimes it’s important to understand that is not the representative’s fault but merely an unruly customer. This is an unfortunate occurrence but many organizations have unruly customers. Here are some methods to aid when dealing with difficult clients.


Personality style

It’s important to understand that some people based upon personality and some behavioral issues will always be somewhat difficult. Take for example any of the gate agents, pilots or even baggage handlers for any airline. In most instances their main purpose is to get people to their destination in a safe manner. They don’t control the weather, they don’t control air traffic control and they don’t control the myriad of other hiccups that occur. However there are those passengers that seem to think that airlines are built for them and for no others. Unfortunately unruliness seems to be their method of operation. If we do not identify the observed behavior we get caught in a maze and have difficulty helping. A quick review of personality traits using resources such as the SELF-Profile or books such, as “Please Understand Me” are helpful.



Customer Service requires allegiance to facts. However there are times when both sides lack information. Pausing, patience and asking good questions can aid with confusion. Agents want to tell, customers want to tell and few want to listen. Listening is an important skill to master.



Never allow issues to get personal and never allow for unsolicited feedback. Customers sometimes need to vent and that is okay as long as personal feelings are not involved.


Be empathetic

It is useful to sympathize with the client and comprehend their frustration. Gain as many facts as possible so that you can help them.


Be willing to negotiate

Sometimes customer service is a negotiation. Everything in life is. It is helpful to understand the art and science of negotiation.


They will complain - just to complain

Federal Express operates with the purpose of ensuring that packages get to their destinations overnight. The culture and the individuals exist for one reason only-overnight delivery. Yet many customers will complain automatically if the package is less than five minutes late. Some like to have more control or feel they do then the delivery company. Here are seven simple steps when dealing with difficult customers:

1. Don’t let them get to you – Refuse to let them get personal. Keep things pragmatic and professional. Get all the facts.

2. Listen – Ask tons of questions and use the Dale Carnegie method of being genuinely interested in others.

3. Stop saying sorry – There is no need to constantly apologize. Remember it is a negotiation and repeatedly apologizing illustrates weakness.

4. Empathize – Using empathy is an effective way to deal with the customer’s feelings. Empathy isn’t about agreement, only acceptance of what the customer is saying and feeling.

5. Build rapport – People feel more comfortable with those they trust and respect. Ask many questions to get to know them.

6. Summarize – Paraphrase and summarize often to gain acknowledgement or agreement.

7. Call to action – Always create a call to action to ensure the problem is or will be resolved expeditiously.


How does your organization deal with unruly clients? Place your best practices in the comment area below.


Drew Stevens is one of the world’s leading authorities on business development and sales. Drew is the author of the successful sales process book Split Second Selling. He is also the creator of the Sales Leadership Certificate one of only 14 programs in the United States offering an accredited degree in the profession of selling and has a top ranked podcast called Sales Fitness. To discover how Dr. Drew can assist your organization to increase their business development skills visit him at www.stevensconsultinggroup.com


What good leaders do

Drake Editorial Team

Are leaders born or made? If they are made, can anyone become a good leader?

Read More


Have you considered the "Learner" in Learnerships?...

Lee-Anne Pattle

Successfully running a learnership requires you to have more than just a venue, course material and a facilitator.

Learn more


The challenges of managing superstars

Bruce Tulgan

You want a whole team of superstars. In a free market, you get what you can negotiate...

Read More