‘The customer is King.’

This statement is very true, considering that no business can survive without customers. If you have a product or service that no customer is willing to pay for, you don’t have a business. Period!

So, this statement isn’t just a ‘feel-good’ slogan. It’s actually true; without customers, you would go out of business.

But sometimes, we encounter customers who act like they were sent straight from hell. Difficult customers can leave you angry, worked up, frustrated and empty.

But the way you handle difficult customers often defines the quality of your customer service. Not knowing how to deal with difficult customers may lead to low staff morale, lost sales, and a damaged reputation for your business.

In this article, I’ll share with you a real-life experience that got me thinking about difficult customers and ultimately influenced me to write this article.

I’ll also be sharing with you the five major types of difficult customer personalities and how you can successfully serve them, and avoid a potentially ugly situation.

Let’s dig in!

Three hours at the bank

It was supposed to be a very simple transaction. I walked into the bank last Monday to deposit cash into my account with a local bank here in Lagos.

Contrary to my expectation, the banking hall was packed full of people that morning. The queue was very long and I knew it was going to be a long wait, probably forty-five minutes.

Little did I know there was a high-energy drama in the works.

I had taken my place in the queue and was waiting my turn when I heard a loud voice erupt from behind me.

‘What rubb-i-sh is this?’

‘What sort of stupid bank is this?’

‘I have been waiting here for more than thirty minutes now, and this shouldn’t be happening.’

‘I need to see the manager right now!’, she said, at the very top of her voice.

I couldn’t help but wonder at the petite lady who now had the full attention of the busy banking hall. She seemed quite normal, and I couldn’t understand why she thought she was more important, or had more urgent things to do than the rest of us who were waiting patiently in line.

One of the bank officials reached out to her to whisper something in her ear, in an attempt to calm her down, but the lady would have none of it.

‘I want to see the manager right now!’, she continued to scream.

It was getting very embarrassing and all the bank tellers had stopped working. All eyes were firmly set on the drama that was unravelling. My hurry, all of a sudden, had disappeared.

By this time, the lady had walked up to the counter and insisted on getting served, over the rest of us. Of course, this made the whole situation messier as more people joined the shouting match.

Long story short, I stormed out of the bank three hours later. I couldn’t believe I had lost my entire Monday morning to the impatience and arrogance of one difficult customer. It was a very frustrating experience for me, and more so for other customers and the bank officials.

It was this ugly experience that inspired my decision to research ‘difficult customers’ and how to handle them. And I’m about to share my findings with you.

The 5 Major Types of Difficult Customers and How To Handle Them

The key to dealing with difficult customers is to first understand what type of difficult customer they are and then to use the right approach to handle them. With the right approach, even the most frustrating customer can be served with a minimal amount of stress.

Let’s meet our difficult customers!

1) The Bully

5 Types of Difficult Customers - And How To Successfully Handle, And Probably, Change Them - Image 2This type of difficult customer is quick to anger, very aggressive, highly critical, impatient, rude, arrogant and often verbally abusive.

Bullies think their needs and demands are superior to everybody else’s. It’s not a surprise they don’t like to wait. They want to be served NOW!

The bully, whether male or female, uses intimidation tactics to get what they want. They scream, complain, abuse and may often get physical to get what they want.

That petite lady in the bank is one clear example of a bully. She tried to use her voice and aggression to get her way over others. She believed her needs were to be prioritized over the others, even those ahead of her in the queue.

How to handle the Bully

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re right or wrong, bullies don’t care about your explanations. If you have any, please save it for your other customers. The bully’s impatient, rude and arrogant attitude makes it almost impossible for them to listen to any other voice other than theirs.

So, the best way to handle a bully, especially when he’s the one on the wrong side, is to calmly and confidently apologise for the ‘problem’ and tell him you’re willing to solve the problem if he calms down and tells you exactly how you can help.

Always maintain eye contact with the bully at all times. It shows him you’re not giving in to his antics.

Don’t ever join a bully in a shouting match or try to match her aggression. Respond politely to them without raising your voice and never take their insults and criticisms personally. It’s your responsibility to remain calm and ‘sane’ while the bully is still in a fit.

If in the end, your attempts to handle him fail, cut him off. Some customers, especially bullies, are just bad for business. They don’t deserve your service.

But if the bully is a high value customer, you can reach out to him at another time, when she may have cooled off.

‘Converted bullies’ can become very loyal customers and ambassadors of your business.

 2) Mr. Know-it-all

5 Types of Difficult Customers - And How To Successfully Handle, And Probably, Change Them - Image 3I’m sure you’ve met this kind of person before. They seem to know everything about everything, including your business, product or service.

In their bid to showcase their knowledge, they could be highly critical and rude. They also tend to talk a lot and always want to dominate the conversation.

This type of customer can be especially difficult to deal with because you can’t really tell what they want. In fact, sometimes, this attitude could just be a negotiation gambit intended to make your product or service seem inferior so they can get it at a cheaper price.

Don’t fall for it.

Know-it-alls like the sound of their own voice and love to be the centre of attention. They have an ego problem.

How to handle the Know-it-all

Handling this type of difficult customer can be easy, if you know how to.

Know-it-alls repond quite well to an ego massage. Compliment their knowledge of your product or service and give them some good attention while you can. Make sure your compliments are sincere and not patronizing.

Never argue with this type of customer as you’ll end up having an extended argument. And worse still, you may hurt her ego.

Instead, if you need to correct him and provide some facts and information, you may use a line like: ‘You’re right, but I think the product is… (make your point).

As long as the ‘Know-it-all’ feels she got your attention, and leaves with her ego intact, this kind of customer can become loyal too.

3) The Habitual Complainer

5 Types of Difficult Customers - And How To Successfully Handle, And Probably, Change Them - Image 4iGenerally, customers complain. And it’s a good thing because complaints can be a very rich source of positive and constructive feedback for your business.

But when you find a particular customer who complains all the time – even about the pettiest of things – you may have a habitual complainer on your hands.

These customers complain about everything and anything. They nag about your prices, the layout of your office, the colour of your shirt, and even the weather.

For this type, nothing is ever good enough. That’s why it can be almost impossible to totally satisfy them.

How to handle the Habitual Complainer

While his complaints may seem harmless, you need to be careful with the habitual complainer because his attitude can exhaust you and totally stress you out.

First, you need to come to terms with the fact that you cannot satisfy everybody. And the habitual complainer is one of those. Accepting this fact will help you limit yourself from going out of your way to satisfy him everytime.

All you can do is give your very best.

But this doesn’t mean you should ignore the habitual complainer. Give her your attention and let her know you’re listening. Never give in to the temptation to make excuses or explain your way out of her complaints.

No matter what she says, respond calmly and nicely, and with a smile (if you can find one.) J

If there are any valid complaints you think you can fix, then do something about it. It’s always a good strategy to make a note of all the things he’s asking for and serve him at once. That way, you don’t have to deal with him multiple times.

4) Madam ‘No Boundaries’

5 Types of Difficult Customers - And How To Successfully Handle, And Probably, Change Them - Image 5I used to have a client who would call me on a Sunday morning to discuss a matter that’s neither very important nor urgent.

This type of customer doesn’t respect boundaries and expects you to respond to her requests immediately. It doesn’t matter if it’s 3a.m in the morning or over the weekend. She’ll send you emails, texts and would even give you a call at the oddest times.

Madam ‘No Boundaries’ is the type of customer that invades your personal life and leaves you feeling swarmed and overwhelmed.

How to handle the ‘No Boundaries’

If you suspect that a customer falls into this category, it’s usually best to clearly explain your boundaries.

For example, you could clearly state in your contract, emails or signs in your store: ‘We’re open from 8am to 6pm, on Mondays to Fridays. If something comes up over the weekend, unless it’s an emergency, we’ll respond on Monday morning.’

Many times, this type of customer may ignore the stated boundaries and still send you an email over the weekend. When this happens, enforce the boundaries by your behaviour instead of direct confrontation – only respond to that email by Monday morning!

Also, with this type of client, it’s always good to set expectations. If not, they’ll swarm you with requests from all corners.

5) The Indecisive

5 Types of Difficult Customers - And How To Successfully Handle, And Probably, Change Them - Image 6For some strange reason, this type of customer just cannot make a decision. They’ll ask you questions, and even more questions, but still can’t make a purchase no matter the quantity of information you provide.

Indecisives want to be 101 percent sure that they’re getting the best deal, quality, price and features before they buy. They’re usually afraid of making any mistakes. That’s why they keep asking questions, comparing, and ‘investigating.’

This type of customer is the classic time waster. They’ll exhaust your energy and time, and still won’t buy. Although they’re harmless and often very polite, this type of customer can be very draining on your productivity.

How to handle the Indecisive

The key to handling the Indecisive is to determine their hot button. What exactly are they most concerned about? Price? Quality? Quantity? Features?

When you know what their hot button is, it’s much easier to ‘force’ them to make a decision. If they make the decision, good for you – you’ll make a sale.

And if they don’t make the decision, you can just ignore them for the time wasters that they are.

Another way to move Indecisives towards a decision is to ‘sweeten’ the deal. Give them a price or bulk discount, a free taster, or offer a money-back guarantee. Better still, you can introduce some urgency to ‘help’ them make a decision.

Either way, you need to be strict with this type of customer. If not, they’ll eat up your time and energy, and leave you exhausted – without a sale, of course.

Have you had any experiences dealing with difficult customers?

As long as you’re in business, you’ll surely encounter difficult customers from time to time. They’ll always be there. Your job is to handle them successfully.

Thankfully, most customers are reasonable, trouble-free and straight-to-the-point.

Always remember that your ability to successfully handle difficult customers will lead to greater respect for your business, more patronage, higher sales and healthy staff morale.

It’s not enough to put the blame on the difficult customers. By applying the techniques in this article, you can adapt to their tactics and hopefully, convert them to friendly and loyal customers.

Have you had any experiences dealing with difficult customers?

Please share your experience, thoughts, comments and suggestions in the Comments section below.

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To your success!