Ways to Respond When Customers Behave Badly

Last Updated: 

December 13, 2022

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It may be easy to provide every customer with personalised care and attention when you’re just starting. However, as you scale your operations and attract more clients, misunderstandings and conflicts can arise. This is especially true in today’s on-demand world, with more than 50% of surveyed respondents reporting they expect even higher-quality service now than they did just 12 months prior*

While conflict may be an inevitable part of running a small business, it’s how you handle customer-related problems that matters. Use the tips below to help defuse situations whenever possible – and cut your losses when necessary.

1. Listen, listen, listen

The single most important step in conflict resolution involves listening. More specifically, you need to listen to everything an angry customer has to share – without judgment or interruption.

This serves two important purposes:

  • Letting people vent allows them to blow off steam. This allowance alone can help resolve a surprising number of conflicts in your personal and professional lives.
  • Listening allows you to better understand the underlying problem, which is a prerequisite for coming up with potential solutions.

2. Make them feel heard

In your words, state the problem back to the customer as clearly and as succinctly as possible. Doing so lets him or her know you truly understand the issue and signals that you have been listening carefully. Again, this is sometimes enough to resolve the problem. Letting customers know that their voice matters can establish trust and rapport – both of which are crucial for the next step.

3. Outline their options

How to resolve customer issues ultimately depends on what the problem is:

  • If the customer is right to be upset – due to poor service or a faulty product – offer a swift and sincere apology. Next, try to resolve the issue in a way that leaves the individual satisfied. If an online purchase arrived late, for example, reverse any shipping charges and offer the customer a discount on his or her next online order.
  • If the customer is upset about a policy that you can’t really change – such as mask mandates or late fees – it’s still a good idea to offer an apology. However, you should also calmly explain why the policy exists and why all customers are expected to abide by these guidelines.

4. Call in management

Because entry-level employees tend to work on the frontlines of customer service, they receive the lion’s share of angry complaints. Due to their experience and training, supervisors are often better equipped to handle customer conflicts. Moreover, they have more latitude when it comes to offering perks, discounts, and other freebies to help defuse tense situations. When dealing with very difficult users, don’t hesitate to bring in managers for support.

What happens if there’s nothing you can do to appease a truly irate customer?

5. Let them go

Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to resolve a customer’s issue. In fact, some people get a kick out of creating drama and projecting faux outrage.

If you’re dealing with a customer who rejects all of your offers, don’t be afraid to let this person go. No small business owner wants to lose a sale, but think about how much time you’ll end up saving by not having to deal with that unreasonable customer. Letting him or her go frees resources for other tasks – such as interfacing with supportive and profitable customers who want to help your business grow.

That said, there’s no need to be rude or dismissive when cutting ties with challenging buyers. Bad news travels fast – particularly on social media. The last thing you want are spiteful customers who write negative reviews about your small business. Instead, remain calm but firm. Leave open the possibility of eventually doing business again with them at some point in the future.

Conflicts are unavoidable in life. Yet if the majority of shoppers are happy with your products and services, then the occasional customer-related complaint isn’t a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’re growing.

To keep that momentum going, be sure to check out the accompanying resource. It includes additional conflict resolution tips for small business owners.

Mihir Korke

Author bio: Mihir Korke is Head of Acquisition at Clover Network, a leader in small business credit card processing and POS systems. Clover specialises 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.

* “100 Essential Customer Service Statistics and Trends for 2021,” Nextiva, 3 June 2021

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