How to handle difficult customer situations

What to do when you find yourself in a challenging conversation

Challenging conversations happen every now and then, especially when you’re selling products online. There are ways to prevent the bulk of them, however sometimes you find yourself in an argument with a customer and you don’t even know how you got there.

The fact that people can contact you across multiple platforms has made this even more complex, as conversations now often happen publicly.

In this article, we cover our top tips on keeping your cool and ending the conversation on a positive note.

Listen, don’t be reactive

It might not always be easy, but no matter how much you want to tell them why they’re oh-so-wrong, bite your tongue and listen.

Let the customer talk and acknowledge how they feel. That often calms the situation instantly because you’re not providing any opportunity for them to continue arguing.

Acknowledge what the customer says and feels

Everyone experiences situations differently and the reality is that we don’t know what else is going on in someone else’s life. They might be dealing with all kinds of things, and a lost parcel is just the tip of the iceberg. Most often people realise only later how unreasonable they have been.

With that in mind, try to acknowledge how your customer feels.
To deactivate a negative emotion, you can use a technique called labelling:

Step 1 – Identify the emotion your customer is experiencing

Step 2 – Label it, i.e. “It sounds like this is very frustrating for you.”

Try to phrase your labels using the following:

  • “It seems like…”
  • “It feels like…”
  • “It sounds like…”

Tip: Avoid “What I’m hearing…” or “I think…” These messages convey that you are more interested in your perspective than theirs.

Focus on solutions instead of accusations

It’s not about who’s right or wrong.

It’s important to remember that even though both you and the customer are experiencing the situation in a different way, each other’s perception and feelings are still valid.

So instead of fighting back with counter-arguments, try to offer a solution, or even better ask your customer how they would like the situation to be resolved.
This opens up a healthy conversation about how you can both work together to find the best outcome. It will make your customer feel heard and validated. You want them realise you’re on the same page and not their enemy.

The quickest way forward is by accepting what you can and can’t change. Try to work with what you’ve got.

Pick your battles

Even if you just know that the customer is blatantly lying, think about how far you want to go. Sometimes, the matter is simply not worth arguing over and risking bad online reviews for.

Some things, like resending or refunding a purchase are simply part of business and need to be accounted for in your pricing structure. It’s part of selling online. However, if it happens too frequently, use it as an opportunity to find the underlying issue.

Be kind and understanding

It might seem unfair in the moment for you to be one who’s kind and understanding, when the customer is the one who’s unreasonable and clearly in the wrong. However, think of the bigger picture here.
It’s your business and reputation you have to consider, don’t let your ego get the better of you.

A little bit of kindness goes a long way and even though the customer might sound like they’re not considering how the situation makes you feel, you still have the chance to turn things around by considering how they feel.

Talk to a friend or colleague to let off steam

You are allowed to feel angry and emotionally exhausted from dealing with challenging conversations, especially during busy stressful times!

However, the key lies in letting it all out in a safe appropriate environment. The customer is the wrong person to tell how stressed and upset you are. Once you’ve handled the customer conversation, go for a walk, shake it off and talk to a colleague or good friend instead.

Take note of hidden feedback

We’re not going to sugarcoat it: Unhappy customers can be exhausting and are often the last thing you want to be dealing with. However, there can be a silver lining. Try to pay attention to the details between the lines.

  • Why is the customer upset?
  • Did they miss some important information? If so, why?
  • Was the information on the website unclear or misleading?
  • Are you hiding important information in the fine print?
  • Could you add some additional information to the product page or order notifications to set expectations?
  • Is the courier you’re using unreliable?
  • Could your packaging be better?
  • Are your photos or product descriptions sufficient?

Especially if the conversation has escalated on a public platform before you had the chance to step in, you can usually learn something from what people are saying as long as you are taking note, listening, and acknowledging your audience. Remember to not take anything personal, though!

Having said that, if a customer has contacted you on a public channel and you have the chance to catch it in time, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to take the conversation offline and ensure your community that the matter is taken care of.


We don’t suggest that the customer is always right, but you want to pick your battles and ensure whatever you do is in the longterm interest of your business.

Put your ego aside. If a customer is very difficult and all it would take were to give them a refund to make them happy, maybe that’s worth it, even if they are completely in the wrong.

Try to learn from what the customer is experiencing and use it to make your business better, but most importantly, remember to not take these situations personally. Most often they have nothing do you with you.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This