How to Cope with the Customer Who *Isn’t* Always Right

The customer’s always right…until they’re wrong. Avoid rustling the feathers of misguided clients with these four key strategies.

Most business owners are familiar with the mantra, “The customer is always right.” For decades, the phrase has guided customer service dealings around the world. But while the customer may sometimes be right, there’s one thing that every businessperson knows: the customer is not always right.

The next time you’re navigating a delicate situation with a particularly demanding or confrontational customer who’s clearly in the wrong, keep these tips in mind to ensure your interactions remain friendly and positive. You, your employees, and even your customers will be the better for it.

1. Say ‘No’ the Right Way

Know your limits. If a customer is demanding services, products, or a level of care that your business doesn’t provide, make it clear that you want to help them to the best of your ability, but can only do so within the limits of your offered services. If you can provide a refund, an exchange, or technical support, do so. Be courteous and polite, and let them know you’re doing your best to find a suitable solution.

If—after discussing potential options—it becomes obvious that your business can’t meet the customer’s needs, don’t hesitate to refer them to an alternative vendor. This is a great way to instill trust and respect, and it improves the likelihood that they’ll return to you when their needs better match the services your business actually provides.

2. De-escalate When Necessary

No business owner or employee likes dealing with conflict, but sometimes a particularly terse customer interaction makes interference necessary. If the customer remains combative after you’ve done your best to clear any potential “roadblocks,” such as finding them support or offering an exchange, find a gentle way to let them know that there’s nothing else you can do to help them.

One way to do so is by posing a simple question: “What could we do better next time?” This signals two important things—that there is nothing more you can do for them in the present situation, but that you welcome their business in the future and are actively endeavoring to improve your services.

3. Don’t Be a Pushover

Attacks, threats, and bullying of employees or other customers is unacceptable. It’s especially important for your employees to see that you support them when an excessively disruptive customer causes a scene.

Communicate to the agitated customer with both empathy and resolve: “I understand that you’re frustrated, and I’ll do my best to help you — just as my colleague Jake is doing. Let’s proceed calmly, and we’ll find a solution that works for all of us.” Not only does standing up to the aggressor preserve your team’s solidarity—it also shows other customers that you are willing to defend a civil and fair business environment.

4. Laugh About It

When all else fails, humor can go a long way. Making a joke might help lighten the mood between you and a customer, especially if they’re so laser-focused on what’s making them upset that they’re unable to take a step back to reflect. At the very least, encouraging your employees to have a chuckle about a strange customer interaction or tough deal can foster team rapport. What’s more, connection and a sense of belonging have the power to relieve stress companywide.

Ken Sterling is the Executive Vice President at BigSpeak Speakers’ bureau – the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales & marketing expert. For press interviews, contact

This article originally appeared on Business2Community.