How to Handle Challenging Customers

handle challenging customers

Handling challenging customers needs great communication skills. Firstly you need to identify the signs of a frustrated customer. Following this you need to use all your skills to turn the situation around and engage the customer positively in your business. 

How to handle challenging customers:

Avoid unconscious bias

Unconscious bias occurs when we need to make decisions and judgements quickly. Reactions are based on our personal experiences. This means there is a natural bias towards people with appearances, backgrounds, views and opinions which fit with the world view we are most familiar and comfortable with. By doing this unconsciously there is no malicious intent, we are often unaware that we have done it and of its impact and implications.

When dealing with challenging customers you need to be aware of this and how it could impact negatively on your interaction with them. Is the customer ‘challenging’? Or are they not responding and reacting in a way you expect or are used to and therefore you are not as comfortable dealing with them? Take time to consider this and whether or not your approach may be contributing to the customers attitude. 


Often when people are upset they need to feel heard. Providing they are not using threatening language or behaviour, let them blow off some steam. Use encouraging phrases such as, “i see” and “I understand” to show you are actively listening. Don’t interrupt them. Once they have fully explained the situation and feel you are listening they will begin to calm down. You can then start to attempt to start to engage them positively.

Start from the beginning

This can be a great strategy when things have spiralled a little. Assume the position of a beginner. By adopting this approach it will prevent you from making assumptions and judgements. By avoiding assumptions and judgements you can start again and give the customer the benefit of doubt. You may know your business and service well but there is always the possibility that you may learn something new from an exchange from a customer. Approach the conversation as a new puzzle to be solved.

Don’t be fearful of criticism

Criticism occurs in every business and industry. If someone is critical it could be for good reason and should be taken seriously. Failure to do so can be damaging for your business. Perhaps your service doesn’t meet their expectations leading to disappointment and frustration. If left unresolved this customer will not return and may also give negative feedback about your business to others, dissuading them from using your service. 

Many people will not criticise, they will simply be annoyed by their bad experience and share this with others. So a criticism should really be used as an opportunity. However a customer highlights a grievance to you, it should be treated with grateful thanks. If you are unaware of a problem, how can you solve it? Criticisms make you aware of something you can fix and should be viewed positively.

Stay calm

As obvious as this may seem, it can be so easy to give into frustration when it feels someone is attacking you personally. But always keep in mind the person is not really attacking you, it isn’t personal, you are simply the target of their disappointment. Nothing will be achieved by point scoring or trying to ‘win’ an argument. By staying in control of your emotions you show maturity and professionalism. Always remember you are a representative for the business. Keeping your composure and not being drawn into an argument will often calm tensions and the issue can begin to be resolved.


Engage in Learning provide Customer Service Pathway courses which will help you understand why good customer service should be a crucial part of your business and how you can achieve it. The Satisfy Challenging Customers course will show you how to identify different types of challenging customers and handle them with a calm and professional approach.

Our Satisfying Challenging Customers course can be found here