How to Handle 7 Difficult Customer Situations


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All Images Courtesy Helprace

Delivering great customer service is difficult. Even the most skillful customer support representative may run into situations that may catch them off guard.

Most issues stem from something that customers innately expect to get. Tricky support situations arise when customers want something that can’t be quickly and easily given by the support representative

Surprisingly, most of these situations can be narrowed down to only a handful of examples. We’ll explore situations where customers demand the following:

  • A refund
  • A free perk
  • A new feature
  • To speak to the boss
  • The item to (finally) arrive
  • The old price / feature back
  • A solution where there is none

They want a refund


The problem:

Customers ask for refunds when they strongly feel that they aren’t getting their money’s worth. They may want to unsubscribe or return the product as a way of letting the company know about it.

The solution:

Don’t be confrontational. Hear the customer out. If you can, help by offering alternatives to a refund. If you can’t offer a refund, apologize and give reasons for doing so.

What to get across:

  • I am taking responsibility for the product and its shortcomings
  • I want to know the real reason you’re unhappy and if it’s something I can fix
  • Be clear why you can’t fulfill their request

Example phrases to use:

Ask further questions

I know it’s frustrating to contact us about a problem and have us ask more questions. However, I will need to use … to …

Empathize the benefits

I understand these aren’t the answers you were looking for. However, doing it this way allows you to …

Carefully soften a “no”

I apologize for not being clear before, but our refund policy clearly states … (link)

They want a free perk


The problem:

Customers may want a discount, free samples or special treatment. They may be a student, a startup or working on non-profit project.

The solution:

This is the time to ask questions. Are they on a budget? Is it a one-time project? What are their long-term needs?

What to get across:

  • Your needs are important to me and I will do my best to address them
  • I am exploring solutions based on your unique use case
  • I can clarify the pricing structure and the reasoning behind it

Example phrases to use:

Express regret if you can’t do it

Unfortunately, we won’t be able to … but I’d like to understand your situation better to see if there’s anything else I can do

Look for the underlying “why”

Can I ask why you’re looking for this? If you’d share more details about your project, I might be able to help you out

Offer an alternative

I understand you are not happy with our decision. Some of our customers have been using … with great success

They want a new feature


The problem:

Customers are looking for a feature that is not going to be added, so handling this request is (understandably) tricky.

The solution:

Take it as a compliment. If customers are suggesting a feature, they already invested time in testing out your product.

What to get across:

  • Here’s the situation at our company and our goals for the long term
  • I’m taking a note of this feedback and keeping track of who else feels the same way
  • In the meantime, here’s how you can deal with this right now

Example phrases to use:

Express the company position

I understand your frustration. To appeal to the majority of our customers, we are not prioritizing this function…

Offer a workaround

I agree it’s strange you can’t do that. However, we allow users to do the same with … and … to achieve desired results

Extend a helping hand

If any of these steps are unclear, just get back to me and I’ll explain in more detail

They want to speak to the boss

The problem:

Most customers contact support because it’s the last straw. It could be one serious issue or a number of unrelated problems they’ve run into over a period of time. As a result, they want to talk to the decision maker.

The solution:

Be accountable. Be specific. Reassure the customer that you know what you are talking about. Avoid being wishy-washy with your answers (any form of “maybe” or “I’m pretty sure).

What to get across:

  • I understand what you’re going through and I can resolve your issue
  • However, I might need some additional information in order to help you
  • Reassure them a positive outcome is further ahead

Example phrases to use:

Let them know you’re paying attention

It looks like … is where you get stuck, is that right? If I am wrong, please correct me

Ask for additional information

In order to help you out, I’ll need you to walk me through … to see if it’s a problem on our end or not

Offer them a solution

I understand it’s stressful not knowing when we’ll apply the fix. I will get back to you by …

They want the item to (finally) arrive

The problem:

These situations are difficult to diffuse because you must reassure the customer, contact your shipping provider and offer a positive outcome for the customer.

The solution:

Listen to them and try to understand their specific situation. You can’t control when the item arrives, but you can offer a discount or what you’ll do so it never happens again.

What to get across:

  • I truly appreciate and understand what you’re going through right now
  • Here is how our ordering, shipping and service management processes operate
  • Here’s when you’re going to receive your item and what we’ve learned

Example phrases to use:

Express regret and apologize

I’m sorry you have to wait for your order longer than you have to, so please accept my sincere apology that this happened

Explain the situation as best as you can

When you ordered, the package was picked up from our warehouse on … and is currently in transit with …

Communicate the reason

Unfortunately, due to a strike / unusually high number of orders, some of our shipments have been delayed. We’re working on fixing this by …

They want the old price / feature back

The problem:

Repeat customers get used to prices and features that they have come to rely on. As a result, they can make a lot of noise when a certain function becomes unavailable.

The solution:

Express that the change isn’t the end of the world and there’s a way out of this situation. Listen and keep track of feedback. Be clear why the change was made.

What to get across:

  • Your feedback is very important to me. How were you using this feature?
  • Here is why this this feature was removed and why we won’t bring it back
  • Perhaps you could consider this alternative. Does this help you out?

Example phrases to use:

Hear out their feedback

Thanks for using our product. I understand how frustrating it must be to rely on something only to have it disappear

Be up front with the company direction

After long and painful deliberation, we decided to stop supporting this product. It took a lot of resources to maintain and wasn’t being used by the majority of our customers

Extend a helping hand

I realize I didn’t address your immediate problem, but here are some of the alternatives you can use …

They want a solution where there is none

The problem:

Customers run into a very difficult problem that can’t be solved from your end, or aren’t able to offer you with the right information to do so.

The solution:

Express what you can and can’t do in this situation and follow up with the customer at a later time.

What to get across:

  • Unfortunately, I can’t solve your problem due to these issues
  • I’m doing my best to research your problem and provide you with relevant information
  • Apologize that you couldn’t assist the customer to their liking

Example phrases to use:

Express why it’s not possible

Unfortunately, we do not have access to your banking information due to…

Be honest if you’re unsure of something

I am 90% sure. Let me double check that for you. That’s a good question. I am unsure but I’ll get back to you right away.

Leave on a positive note

Sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but I’m always here if you have any additional questions!

So that’s that! Remember that the right approach minimizes conflicts, which reflects positively on your organization. When you frame your answers the right way, you avoid misunderstandings and ensure every support experience is a success.

Vitaliy Verbenko
Vitaliy is a Marketing and Support Advocate at Helprace, a help desk and customer service software. He has been into customer service ever since he co-founded a small construction company five years ago. He holds a BA from Canada's Ryerson University.


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