How Do You Handle Lying Customers?


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If you actually follow the mantra that says the customer is always right, then you might as well look up, because gullible is written on the ceiling. Customers aren’t always right. In fact, they’re often wrong. Many even lie about different issues. Do you have a plan in place for handling these customers?

Face It: Customers Lie

In the business world, we’ve been so conditioned to think that customers are like gold. They’re highly valuable and can’t possibly be anything but pure. It’s probably been indoctrinated in your brain over the years that the absolute worst thing you can do is lose a sale or drive a customer away to the competition.

And while these aren’t ideal outcomes, you shouldn’t let your pursuit of sales and customer retention fool you into thinking customers are perfect. They’re imperfect creatures, just like the rest of us, and regularly lie and deceive to get their way.

This isn’t meant to be a hit piece on customers, but it is designed to enlighten you on the fact that customers can be dishonest. You’re doing your business a disservice by regurgitating the tired idea that they’re always right – no matter the circumstances.

Customers tell white lies and blatant lies. They’ll lie about never receiving a product in order to get another and they’ll fib about how much a competitor is charging for the same service. Customers will even lie about how a product has been used in order to qualify for a warranty or return. If you’re in business long enough, you’ll see all of these things.

How to Handle a Lying Customer

The reason most businesses don’t confront lying customers – at least not directly – is because they’re fearful of damaging their image. They’re worried that they’ll get bad publicity or negative word of mouth for refusing to follow the demands of the customer.

While this is a valid concern, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll ultimately end up devaluing your company more if you don’t stand up for yourself. With that being said, here are a few things to think about:

1. Be Wary of Chargeback Claims

If there’s one thing that can be a nightmare for businesses, it’s chargebacks. Sometimes your business is at fault, but most of the time, there’s some other issue. There could be a hacker in play or the customer could be lying to get their money back.

A lot of so-called experts will tell you not to waste your time disputing chargebacks, but this isn’t always sound advice. “The best way to handle a chargeback is to work with the customer,” High Risk Pay explains in this blog post. “Make the attempt to solve the problem by reaching out to the customer first. Find out the source of the problem and figure out whether and how both business and customer can solve the problem.”

2. Know How to Decode an Email

Email has become a breeding ground for deceit. Customers will use email because it’s non-confrontational and allows them to craft a story without having to directly interact with your customer service department in real-time.

You need to become good at spotting lies in customer emails so that you can respond in an appropriate manner. Tyler Cohen Wood, a government intelligence officer and cyber expert, often looks for telltale signs like emphatic and non-committal language, pushing away, avoidance of questions, hopping between tenses, and using an excessive amount of qualifying statements.

3. Be Willing to Fire a Customer

Lying customers don’t like to be called out. Even when they know you’re right and they’re wrong, they’ll get defensive and confrontational. If you’re going to call out a customer for being deceitful, you also have to be willing to fire them – i.e. let them go.

It’s strongly suggested that you avoid directly using the word “lie” or calling the customer a liar. Instead, call the lie out by using terminology like “transparency.” Ask questions and encourage the customer to speak in specifics. If the lying continues, give the customer a chance to come clean before parting ways.

4. Hire the Right People

Your customer service representatives are the most tangible extension of your team. These are the folks that your customers interact with the most (outside of sales, perhaps) and you can’t afford to get lazy with your hiring habits.

Who you hire in customer service often determines how your company is viewed by customers. While it may be tempting to go the cheapest route possible, spend a little more time and money and choose to be selective. It’ll benefit you in the long run.

Tread Lightly, But Take Action

You never want to take an overly aggressive stance when confronting customers. The key is to tread lightly, but stick up for your brand. You may experience some momentary backlash from a frustrated customer, but it’s better to be firm than to be known as a pushover.


  1. Human nature being what it is, as you note the most effective thing any vendor can do with a customer is prepare for all potential eventualities. As Mel Brooks famously said, from a song in his great film “The Twelve Chairs”: “Hope for the best, expect the worst”, with lyrics like “Even with a good beginning, it’s not certain that you’re winning. Even with the best of chances, they can kick you in the pantses.” With customers, there is a range of potential behaviors.

    I’m also reminded that, in the famous BBC series, “I, Claudius”, Herod Agrippa offers this advice to Emperor Claudius for dealing with those around him: . “Trust no one, my friend, no one. Not your most grateful freedman. Not your most intimate friend. Not your dearest child. Not the wife of your bosom. Trust no one.” More currently, President Ronald Reagan built on a Russian proverb when he said, “Trust, but verify.”

    Finally, per W. Edwards Deming: “In God we trust, all others bring data.” But, customers can use data to support their ‘alternate facts’, their own version of the truth. So, again, vendors need to tread carefully.

  2. Lying packs a lot of emotion, especially when we are accusing others. When it comes to assessing our own honesty, we provide a much wider strike zone. e.g. When answering the question, “Do I look good in this dress?” . . . Yes, dear . . .

    When it comes attributing lying to customers, I use the word sparingly. If I’m in a contract negotiation with a prospect, and he or she tells me that they cannot afford to pay a higher price, are they lying if, in fact, they can? Or, are they just exercising a reasonable negotiating tactic. This is just one anecdote where if I hold customers to a rigid honesty definition, I’m probably going to be disappointed, because a high percentage of the time, they will cross that threshold.

    A more pragmatic approach is to accept that in a certain percentage of interactions, prospects will be intentionally dishonest. I must understand how these behaviors will manifest themselves, and where there is high risk (e.g. stealing high value merchandise), then I should take adequate measures to mitigate the risks. Where there is likely a low cost (e.g. when a customer requests expedited shipment of a product when there’s actually no urgency), I might be willing to accept the risk. As a practical matter, I can’t possibly vet the honesty of everything prospects do, say, or request.

    For me, risks of dishonesty should be built into the business model, just as companies budget an allowance for bad debts, and charge them off through a GL expense account. Agree – minimize your potential losses, but if you can’t afford the risk of having dishonest customers, then change your balance sheet ratios so that your business has the capacity for the cost of something going wrong.

  3. I think the company has to be better informed. Lets take a warranty repair. If the customer does not have the warranty proof, and the company does not have it, what do you do? The company has to devise ways of having his information to counter lying customers

  4. First, take the customer’s story at face value as they tell it…then dig deeper by asking questions needing more detail. If the customer changes some of the details, then they are most likely not being truthful. Just as when a child tries to get away with a lie to a parent, the more involved they try to be with their story, the more unbelievable it becomes. Look also for tell-tale signs – fidgeting, sweating, eye movements, etc. Body language can sometimes be more telling in person than words.

  5. I need a tactful way to handle my ISP customers who love to tell us that the internet “isn’t working,” while it is obvious that they are robust users who could not possibly be moving that much traffic without a good connection. We can tell them point blank that we are watching them use it on the monitoring software, and they will insist that it is not working at that moment. They will tell us it has “been down for two weeks,” when we can clearly see that it has been up for several weeks without a single interruption. I have tried the subtle suggestion to change the household wifi password “in case a neighbor is stealing your service,” because we can see that it is being used. We offer to have them bring in their device to be checked for problems, but they are never willing to do that either. Our business model does not work if our income is reduced every time we give a discount for an imaginary issue. The fact that customers only complain after we either send a past due statement or turn them off for nonpayment also tells me that the problem is a manufactured excuse created to justify why they did not pay their bill on time.


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