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Dealing with Difficult Customers

November 20, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Customer Service

Dealing with Difficult Customers

Every organization will have “difficult” customers. They are usually difficult not because they are trying to cause trouble, but because they are often much harder to satisfy and therefore need to be handled with greater care and attention.

Different types of difficult customers

In order to deal with our most difficult customers or those that seem to be ready to complain the most, it is important to appreciate the different types of people that we are likely to have to deal with. A useful way of classifying difficult customers or complainants is into Active (also called aggressive or challenging), Passive (also called inactive or silent) and Chronic (also called professional or manipulative). Let’s look briefly at each of these types in turn.


The Active Complainer is usually well aware of his or her rights and is typically confident, knowledgeable and assertive. They often have high expectations and standards and will assert him/herself strongly (often using controlled anger) in order to get a result that he or she deems to be acceptable. As hard as they may be to deal with at times, these open and often “in your face” complainers are extremely valuable because they will tell the organization what is wrong with little or no prevarication and/or frills.


For the most part, this type of person may not “officially” complain but he or she will quietly tell everybody else that he/she can of their negative experience (usually through normal conversations with people that he/she meets). A large proportion of Passive Complainers may not deliver direct statements of discontent (because they wish to avoid conflict with the enterprise) but may reveal some of their dissatisfaction through minor remarks or negative body language or tone.


The Chronic Complainer has often had considerable experience at complaining in many situations in the past and is typically very comfortable in looking to get the best possible outcome for him or herself. While a few people on this category just get a “buzz” from complaining, at the more extreme end of the scale, they may be very brash, rude and highly manipulative (using almost any tactics that will get them what they want).

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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