How To Handle A Tough Client

Anyone who’s in customer service knows that one of the main (and old) mantras is that the customer is always right. But what do you do when the customer is not right? We’ve all dealt with a horrendous client who is clearly in the wrong, but do you tell them that and potentially ruin their view of you/your business? Or do you appease them to keep the conflict at a minimum? I’m sharing my best tips on how to handle a tough client below!

Figure out what matters to you:

I started my career at Nordstrom, and because of that I have an extremely strong foundation of customer service. I’m pretty confident that I could figure out how to handle a tough client and provide good customer service in my sleep thanks to my experience there. One of the most important things I learned early on during my retail experience is that sometimes, giving the customer what they want (even if it’s wrong) is worth it.

It sounds hard, and trust me, it is, but in the end, you have to figure out what matters to you. Are you going to fight tooth and nail with a customer based on principle? Or are you going to give them what they want to (hopefully) keep your reputation untarnished?

I once questioned a manager about her choice to return a clearly used handbag from years ago, and she gave me a pretty blunt and extremely eye opening response. She told me that ultimately, the bag should not have been returned, however this person was so set on returning it that she would have fought until she got what she wanted, and probably bad mouthed the salespeople that didn’t comply. “At the end of the day, it’s one item, and I don’t think this item is worth us potentially losing our great customer service reputation.”

Think about it and come up with a plan ahead of time:

If you’re in customer service, you will have to figure out how to handle a tough client at least once, but probably more often than you would like. Think about what matters most to you and come up with a game plan for how to handle these situations before they come up. That way, you can feel confident in your actions and handle the situation however you choose with ease.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this won’t happen to you. It will, and you need to be prepared for it.

If you choose to give the customer what they want:

If you choose to give the customer what they want, take a deep breath and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. One bad customer shouldn’t have a negative effect on your business. In a day and age where word of mouth and client reviews mean everything, take solace in the fact that at the very least, this customer will be able to tell others that you and your business were accommodating.

With that being said, set a precedent that this is an exception to your policy so that the customer does not make this a regular occurrence. A great example of how to explain this would be something like this:

“I’m happy to make that return for you as it seems like you have a very unique situation, however I am making an exception to our company policy as a one-time gesture of appreciation for your business.”

This statement shows the customer that you care and that you are being accommodating, however it also sets the tone that this is not the standard.

If you choose to stick with your policy and refuse the customer:

If this is the way you have decided to handle the situation, there is no problem with that, but always remember to refuse someone respectfully and explain to them why you cannot accommodate their needs. Letting your personal emotions get in the way of business can be detrimental. Make sure you remain calm, professional, and clearly communicate why you cannot do what they are asking.

Here is a great example of how to phrase this:

“I’m so sorry, but unfortunately I cannot return that item. It has clearly been used, as there is no tag on it and has a stain. Our company policy states that all items must be returned unworn and with the tags on. I’d be happy to suggest a way to clean it, or can offer you another option to if you’d like to purchase a replacement, however I have to stick with our company return policy.”

If someone continues to prod you and starts to get rude or out of control, simply continue to explain that you have a firm policy in place for a reason, and you will not go against that. If someone starts to get rowdy, remain calm and explain the situation:

“Sir/Ma’am, please don’t take that tone with me. I’ve explained that I cannot help you, and if you continue to use that language, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Stick to your guns and remain respectful. You don’t want to stoop to their level.


While traditional customer service says that the customer is always right, often they’re not. When you’re learning how to handle a tough client, it’s important to figure out a game plan ahead of time, and always remain both respectful and professional. At the end of the day, your poise and how you handle the situation is what matters most. You can’t please everyone but you can handle a tough client with poise.

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