November 25, 2015 | By

5 Best Practices for Dealing with Difficult Customers During the Holidays

by Carolyn Healey

As the holiday season approaches and people rush to get everything done, companies often see their normally level-headed customers become easily upset, irritated and sometimes flat out unreasonable.

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And no wonder: A recent survey of 1,000 people, conducted by alldayPA, found that more than 75% of shoppers have been frustrated by businesses not apologizing for problems, while just under half said they have even been blamed for their complaints.

So what can your company do to deal with challenging customers this time of year? Here are five best practices to help your customers be merry once more.

1Training: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Make sure your customer service employees have the skills to deal with difficult and angry customers. Nothing will make a customer angrier than the feeling that they are being ignored or brushed off. So when someone is upset, try these strategies recommended by leading experts:

Take the FUDO approach: Frustrated, Upset, Disappointed, Outcome.

According to Dr. Mark Goulston, author of the newly released book Talking to Crazy, instead of going into a funk about what to do with difficult customers, you should follow the FUDO approach: Frustrated, Upset, Disappointed and Outcome. First, let customers vent for a bit. After they finish, pause for a couple seconds and say: “You sound really frustrated. Can you say a bit more about what that’s about?” Say this in the most sincere tone of voice with your complete attention so they can open up and get things off their chest. When they finish describing their issue, respond with a positive step forward: “Given that all this has happened, what would you like us to do to make this better for you? I can’t promise we can do it, but tell me what it is and I’ll see what we can do.”

Play back their sense of urgency first. Then negotiate.
According to Rich Gallagher, author of The Customer Service Survival Kit, the holidays — or more accurately the end of the year — bring on a lot of frustration, urgency and deadline pressure from customers. The best way to manage all of this pressure? Play back your customers’ sense of urgency first and then negotiate. Why? Because most of the anger and frustration builds when customers try to convince you to “get” them. Take this off the table immediately, and they will be much more open to compromise.

2 – Just What They Wanted: Creating a Customer-Obsessed Model

According to new research from Forrester, one of the top 10 success factors that will determine who wins and who fails in the age of the customer is adopting a customer-obsessed operating model. Companies that make the shift will be able to differentiate themselves reliably, while those that don’t will begin the slow process of failing.

An important element of a customer-obsessed model is empowering employees to make decisions that benefit the customer on the spot. Frustrated customers do not want to be put on hold while a support rep tries to get approval on a seemingly small issue — they want their problem solved now!

3 – Something for Everyone: Multi-Channel Support

Giving customers multiple ways to find the answer to their issue is also very important. Tech-savvy customers can search for the answer on your website, use chat, take advantage of remote support and ask on social media.

However, companies must keep in mind that when customers are easily frustrated, they tend to pick up the phone, particularly when they are over-stressed (like during the holidays). In fact, the alldayPA survey found that the telephone was the most common way of making complaints. However, nearly 70% said they had experienced rude and unhelpful support reps on the phone, and 55% reported frustration with the automated call menus.

Companies must find the right balance of technology and interpersonal skills to keep customers happy.

4 – Make Them Merry: Underpromise, Overdeliver

“Underpromise, overdeliver,” the popular phrase coined by Tom Peters, is often repeated in the service and support industry in regards to customer’s expectations. Why? Think about one of your last customer service experiences. If you were told you would get a response in 24 hours and you did, you were satisfied.

However, if a response is given in 12 hours instead, most of us are pleasantly surprised, because we were not expecting it. Alternatively, if you receive a response after 24 hours, you are dissatisfied since the expectation was not met. This is particularly true during the holidays — customers are relying on you to make good on your promise, so getting a late response can be disastrous.

In fact, customers typically prefer conservative promises that are honored as opposed to ambitious promises that are not met. To quote Tom Peters, “If you ‘underpromise, overdeliver,’ you will not only keep the customers satisfied; you’ll keep the customers.”

5 – Get Rid of the Grinch

Let’s face it. Sometimes no matter how well we are trained or how committed we are to delivering exceptional service, some customers just can’t be reasoned with. They make unreasonable demands, exhibit abusive or threatening behavior, berate your staff and threaten to “expose” you on social media and/or sue you.

In these instances, your organization should have a clear policy of when to draw the line. As a rule of thumb, this threshold is met when the costs of serving the customer substantially outweigh the benefits received, both intangible and tangible. It also sends a strong message to employees that you care about their well-being and are there to back them up.

In summary, dealing with your worst customers is always a challenge, but it can be particularly daunting during the high-stress holiday season. So keep in mind these five best practices to help your company make it through to the New Year. According to Dr. Goulston, one important thing to remember when dealing with difficult customers is this: “It’s not about me; it’s about them, so don’t take it personally and thank goodness I don’t have to live with them.”

About the author:

Carolyn Healey is publisher and editor-in-chief at, a website dedicated to providing senior level service and support professionals with direct access to industry research, best practices, tools and technologies to improve the performance of their own support organization.

Discuss / Read Comments

  • AwildaHarrison | 3 years ago

    This is an excellent article. I have been posting on the internet for a decade and posting extensively. You have summarized things well;

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