How do I deal with difficult customers?

How do I deal with difficult customers?


How do I handle difficult customers and turn them into people who spend money with me?

First of all, you need to define why you consider them difficult. This will help you identify what courses of actions are necessary to make them interested in your invitation to an event.

There are several types of tricky or difficult customers:

Boundary Slippers

They want something more or different to what you’re providing. These customers tend to delay when you want to move from a trial or pilot to business-as-usual deployment of your product. The tactic to use with these people is to know their business better than they do.


They typically want you to bundle up a proposal – and then they want you to unbundle it.  They do this to nibble at your price, especially when you are at the sales stages between presenting your offering and closing the deal. Constant professional communication and knowing their tactics is the key here. Remember that the hard close is as important as your opening pitch.

No Idea Brigade

These customers do not know what they want and tend do either do nothing or procrastinate. In strategic selling there is something called FUD, which is Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. You must employ these tactics to move them from a not buying mode to a buying mode.

Next Day clients

These are the people we deal with daily, who are not the executive buyer or high influencer, but they will issue urgent requests like “it must be delivered tomorrow”.  My advice here is be professionally prompt and communicate clearly.


These are the people who use a customer tactic called “the power of work” and they give you the run-around by bombarding you with requests. They are actually very clever customers who work closely with the Nibblers. The thing to remember here is that every interaction and request gives you and your company a chance to excel and differentiate.

Unreasonable customers

They can be unreasonable for a number of reasons but the trick is never get trapped into their negatively and be prompt with replies and use various communication methods. Often the answer to these people is ‘yes’ but then the questions remains, how?

The Weekenders

This customer group is related to the Unreasonable people. These are the guys who issue an ultimatum on a Friday for an answer on the Monday. Procurement people often will issue a tender on 24 December and give you until 5 Jan to respond.  There is the old retail adage, the customer is always right. My advice is to remember that they can be.

Decision by Committee

This is a separate problem customer group often found in government organisations and larger corporates. Frustrating as they can be, you need to learn how to play their game and be patient.

My Way

These customers often present perceived personal slights as facts, leaving out critical information they deem as unimportant. Empathy works, massaging an ego works but for these guys you must solve their problem.

Budget customers

This is nothing to do with monetary aspects but to do with people who are low down on the organisation’s hierarchy. The tactic to use on these folk is treat them with respect and sell to them the way they would buy and not the way you usually sell.

The bottom line for handling difficult customers is that it is not an art, it is a process. Moving from providing your customers with a good service to proving them with an experience is key. A perceived problem customer in the right buying mode is far better to have than an even keel, happy client who has no reason to buy from you.

Wanda Van Vuuren
Wanda van Vuuren has been with Global Payment Technologies (GPT) since the company’s inception in 1997. One of her greatest achievements to date has been to help GPT grow from 3 to more than 170 staff members and become part of the Bidvest group of companies. In 2006, the year that Bidvest took over GPT, she was promoted to her current position of sales and marketing director.