How to Deal With Difficult Customers During the Holidays

The holiday season seems to bring out the worst in some people. If you consider all the stress that the season can bring – cooking, shopping, decorating, worrying about money, dealing with family issues, taking vacations – the list can go on and on.

There is not a day goes by that I don’t hear a complaint(s) about dealing with a difficult customer. These complaints come from all levels and industries; customers who:

  • make demands, wanting their needs met in their way, no matter if it follows protocol or not
  • treat you as if you don’t know what you’re talking about, talking down to you
  • have no patience for the process, becoming exasperated at your (perceived) lack of effort
  • don’t understand the direction you are giving them
  • go over your head with a complaint about your behavior, which may or may not have been adverse, but not looking at their own behavior in the situation; they skew the story from reality but you still get called on it
  • are gruff or rude
  • feel entitled (to have what they want when they want)

Let’s face it – we’ve all most likely exhibited one (or more) of the behaviors listed above, perhaps in our busyness or when a personal issue arises that is the underlying cause for our behavior. I’ll admit I’ve been there at time or two myself.

People have their own perspectives and expectations of which lead to conflict of some type. Keeping this fact in mind – individual perceptions and expectations – would help to deal more effectively when facing a difficult customer. It seems that expectations have become wanting the latest and greatest, and now -now- now.

Here are some tips to help you deal with a difficult customer:

  • Check yourself each day: question your beliefs, perceptions and expectations about others and how you are presenting yourself; check for any biases you have, or defenses, such as if someone comes up and doesn’t smile does not mean they are not a nice person
  • Breathe – take a deep breath before responding to a difficult customer; you don’t have to respond right away. Taking a few breaths will slow your response down so you can think and communicate more clearly
  • Prep your mindset – mentally preparing yourself will go a long way to dealing with demanding or other adverse behaviors; some suggestions include: visualization, mindfulness, setting an intention each morning to set the tone for the day, taking a break and going outside, using self-talk and validation that you will get through a situation calmly
  • Read up on conflict management – see if your organization offers a course or read books/blogs to learn why conflict exists and steps to resolve it. This will help you to be a more effective communicator and leads to better interactions
  • Remember, it’s about them, not you – people respond by how they think and feel which has nothing to do with you. Remembering this – and being empathetic – will allow to take their behavior less personally when you realize they may be having a bad day or they may be worried about an ill family member or their job
  • Remain calm in how you interact and diffuse any issues needing resolved; let them that you hear their concerns, which is really what they want. The calmer you are, and the more you validate their concern, the less angry or demanding they will be.

Difficult people are a fact of life, some being more difficult than others. It doesn’t seem to be getting better, with advancing technology and fickle consumer needs. The holidays seem to bring this out more with the stressors of the season.  Learning how to deal with these increasing changes and being more aware of human behavior, yours included, is what will help you to deal with those difficult customers you encounter on a daily basis. The holidays won’t be a dreaded season any longer.


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