Question: How to deal with difficult customers


I'm looking for retail customer service experts who can share advice on dealing with difficult customers. How can merchants appease irate, rude, or stubborn shoppers?

2 Expert Insights


Retailers need to remember that the old adage "the customer is always right" still holds true. Empower employees to make decisions and make things right (usually giving the customer a common sense solution and doing whatever it takes is enough!) In most cases, employees are not empowered and so can only give the standard answer that follows store policy. This one size fits all answer is infuriating to a customer that just wants something fixed. Let the employee listen to what they are asking for and then handle it reasonably. Every angry customer presents a challenge and an opportunity. Manage it well and they will speak your praises, manage it poorly and you will be chastised all over social media. Is it worth it to deal with that over losing a few extra dollars to give that customer what they want?


Customers have an expectation regarding service. There is so much talk about it and yet, most customers don't feel like they are getting great service. Why? Because most organizations try to make customer service a thing versus an action. Employees are given steps, processes and scripts to follow. Generally, they are not allowed really serve the customer unless it falls under specific criteria.

However, there are companies that customers rave about like Southwest, Nordstrom, Ritz Carlton and Disney. What do they do that makes them unique? They do everything with this idea in mind - How will this impact the customer? Every single employee in those organizations are given the accountability to take care of customers. They can spend money, skip steps, or do anything that will solve the issue of the customer. Then, once the problem is resolved the organization looks at why the issue occurred to see if there is something that can be done systemically.

The key is to make sure that each and every employee understands the impact they have on gaining/retaining customers. What ever their role within the company, they impact customers. This can be accomplished by making sure that managers:
- reward employees for creating unique approaches to resolve customer issues.
- discuss creating a great customer experience often
- focus on solving customer issues for good

Remember the customer is the only reason the store is open. If a customer is irate, rude or stubborn the source is likely a previous encounter or an expectation of push-back. The worst thing that an employee can do is tell a customer "that's against our policy" or "I wish I could help you but...". That won't rectify the issue and only works to make the customer more angry. Don't try to use "store policy" to deal with an irate customer.  

Resolve the current issue and then figure out the root cause of the anger. Resolving a problem or recovering from a mistake is the real test of service.