No Image Available

Seb Anthony

Read more from Seb Anthony

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Dealing with Difficult people on the telephone


Has anybody got any suggestions, scenarios, role plays for how to handle awkward/angry customers on the telephone, for a session that will last 4 hours?

Many thanks.
jarlath duffy

4 Responses

  1. Empathy exercise
    Hi Jarlath

    An exercise I’ve used before is to split the group into two. Get one group to think about how they react as a customer and how they feel when they have to make a complaint or are not getting the service they think they should. Most people in the UK don’t like complaining and will often walk away and resolve not to come back, rather than complain. Or they wait until they are really angry and can’t take the situation any more.

    Get the other group to think about how they feel when they get a ‘difficult’ customer.

    A lot of the feelings and emotions will be similar.

    Ask them, as a customer, what do they want from the salesperson/service provider when they make a compliant or get angry – what makes them more angry and what calms them down.

    You should come out with a list of hints and tips from that as well as a realisation that both parties are feeling somewhat the same.

    Hope that helps


  2. Behaviour
    I always tend to link complaint / different customer handling with some kind of behavioural styles exercise. If you use the four main styles initially and then explore how they behave under stress / when complaining and how best to resolve their issues, you find that each usually needs to be handled differently. Hi Jarlath
    What I’ve found with a uniformed approach is that in the workplace staff will handle ‘difficult’ situations in the way they prefer (the way they have learnt) rather than the way their customers prefer. This leads to a shortfall in effectiveness.

  3. Difficult people on the phone!
    Hi Jarlath

    First thing is to help trainees understand the limitations of talking on the phone – both because of the lack of all facial/body language cues, and because people tend to behave differently (e.g. more aggressively) than they would in a face-to-face interaction.
    Can you set up a simulation so your trainees can examine this at an experiential level?

    Next your trainees need to be clear about what they are expected to achieve when dealing with customers over the phone – and how much “difficult” behaviour are they required to tolerate before they are allowed to, politely, put the phone down before the interaction is complete?

    One point made previously that I found somewhat ambiguous was the idea that the customer and the person answering the phone might be feeling much the same thing. Yes they might be, BUT ONLY IF the person answering the phone has no idea how to deal with difficult customers.

    Another key point for trainees to get fixed firmly in their minds is that NO customer, however irate, starts out with the intention of attacking them personally. This, alone, should make it MUCH easier to handle calls from “difficult” customers.

    One last point – the statistic I heard (can’t remember where from) was that 96% of UK customers would rather walk away than make a complaint.

    So think on’t – the 4% who complain are actually an incredibly valuable resource. If they kept their grievances to themselves your company would have no idea at all why it was losing customers!

    If you want to contact me @

    [email protected]

    I have some other comments which might be useful to you.

    Be well

    Andy B.

  4. Difficult Customer Activation
    I use a flip chart activation to initiate a discussion about dealing with difficult customers.

    Split the group into 2 and send each to a flip chart.
    Set the scene – Old West, outlaws, gunslingers, sheriffs, wanted posters.

    Task: One group has to draw a wanted poster for the “Most Wanted Customer”, the other for the “Least Wanted Customer”.

    They can use graphics & words.

    Afterwards, have a spokesperson describe their poster to the group. Next, generate a discussion about:
    1. The characteristics of each type of customer – generally, the same things come up.
    2. Can they choose which type of customer they receive on the phone?
    3. and most importantly, who decides if this customer is “difficult” or not? The answer being, of course, they do.
    This can then lead into several possible discussions:
    NLP – changing their perception of what is and isn’t difficult
    Worrying about what they can control, which is their own reaction/handling of the situation.
    And, it can then lead into other topics like how to deliver bad news, how to say no, assertiveness, etc.

    This activation has proven to be effective and lots of fun. Hope it helps.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!