When Customers Behave Badly: Ways To Respond


Even if you sell the best products and services in the world, there will always be customers who give you a hard time. It’s a natural part of doing business. Customer conflict is a problem every company faces – from fledgling startups to successful multinationals.

Although conflict is unavoidable, this article outlines simple strategies you can train your employees and management team to follow whenever dealing with difficult customers. These conflict resolution tips can help defuse stressful situations and make them less frequent.

Understanding why customers behave badly

Rarely is customer conflict personal. Instead, most users become upset for one of the following reasons:

  • Personal circumstances – e.g., losing a job
  • Policy disagreements – e.g., mask mandates
  • Poor service – e.g., refusal to honor a refund
  • Being ignored – e.g., reading from a call center script

When you throw in growing consumer expectations, a pandemic, and an economic downturn, it becomes clear that customer conflict truly is inevitable.

How to deal with customers who behave badly

Although every situation is unique, the strategies below can help resolve most customer conflicts in the workplace:

1. Stay calm

The most important tip of all is to remain calm. Remember that the customer isn’t yelling at you – he or she is yelling at the situation. Losing your cool will only make that situation worse.

2. Actively listen

The next step involves giving the customer your undivided attention as you listen carefully to everything he or she has to say. Giving people room to vent sometimes resolves situations on their own.

3. Repeat the problem

To show you understand the issue from their perspective, repeat the problem (in your words). This helps to establish empathy, trust, and rapport. Again, demonstrating your understanding can sometimes solve the problem on its own.

4. Try to solve the issue

How to solve the problem depends on the nature of the issue:

  • If the customer has a valid point, the best strategy is to apologize, resolve the issue, and give him or her a peace offering such as a discount or freebie.
  • If it’s a policy disagreement, calmly stand your ground and explain why the rule exists. Thereafter, give the customer an opportunity to comply or leave.
  • If it’s a customer who can’t be placated and refuses to cooperate, politely inviting him or her to leave is the best thing you can do. The longer this person stays, the worse the situation will become.

It’s important everyone on your team understands the above strategies and how to apply them calmly. However, it’s also a good idea to rely more heavily on managers when de-escalating situations. This is because supervisors have:

  • More experience in conflict resolution
  • The latitude to offer freebies and perks
  • The authority to remove unruly customers

For additional conflict resolution strategies to share with the team, see our accompanying resource.

Infographic created by Clover Network, a retail POS system company

Author bio: Mihir Korke is Head of Acquisition at Clover Network, a leader in small business credit card processing and POS systems. Clover specializes in restaurant, retail, and personal and professional service payment solutions. With desktop and mobile POS systems, contactless payments, solutions for curbside pickup and online ordering, loyalty and rewards, Clover has multiple solutions to meet your business’s needs.

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