How to Deal with Difficult Customers and Come Out Ahead

How to Deal with Difficult Customers and Come Out Ahead


Everyone has issues they feel extremely passionate about, such as gun control, immigration, politics in general, or religion. In an ideal world, you would never have to deal with such divisive topics when you’re speaking to a customer. After all, you’re there to help them select products and services that your company offers and help them get the most out of their purchase.

While you don’t make a habit of bringing up controversial subjects, what if you find yourself in the position where the customer does? And even more awkward, what if his or her point of view is diametrically opposed to your own?

The first rule of the game is to keep cool, listen, and steer the conversation back to business topics as soon as possible.

Understand That Your Customer May Try to Bait You

People don’t always do it deliberately, but it’s not uncommon to phrase a question or comment in a way that draws the other person into a confrontation. If it seems obvious that your customer isn’t going to stop talking until you hear what he or she has to say, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s not a personal attack. You can even invite the person to tell you more without interjecting your own opinion on the matter. When you stay calm, detached, and unemotional, your customer may quickly lose interest in trying to sway you towards his or her point of view.

Everyone Has a Confirmation Bias

You may think that you can change your customer’s mind about an issue by stating some neutral facts. However, this strategy is very likely to backfire. Human nature is that people hear what they want to hear. In fact, they actively search for people, online articles, and other sources of information that confirms what they already believe to be true. When they see or hear something to the contrary, they simply ignore it. That’s why it’s a mistake to think that you can get a customer to see your viewpoint by sticking to the facts. You may be able to make some progress by pointing out a contradiction in his or her statements and asking for clarification.

Cognitive Dissonance: Another Human Phenomenon

The term cognitive dissonance means that it’s psychologically impossible to hold two opposing views in mind at the same time. One example is thinking that the current president is both the best and the worst that the country has ever had. If you hear your customer making contradictory statements, you could gently phrase it as “I think what I hear you saying is this. Did you actually mean this instead?” If the person doesn’t see the contradiction themselves, let it drop. Tell your customer that you appreciate him or sharing but would like to get back to purpose of your meeting now.

Your mother was right when she said not to discuss religion and politics in polite company. If you need more tips for dealing with this or any other thorny situation, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help. At Business Partner Alliance, we provide targeted coaching, consulting and business advisory services to help small and medium sized business owners achieve new heights. We put our passion and experience to work to help business people achieve their goals. Let’s meet for coffee to see how we can work together.