Working in retail, or in hospitality, you’ll meet all sorts of customers, in any kind of setting. Most people will be nice and respectful, and they will appreciate your efforts. But some customers will be angry–either because they do not like something about their shopping experience, or they do not like you, or they face some problems in their life and simply decided to vent their anger while shopping or eating in a place where you happen to work.

What is more, difficult customer does not mean only an angry customer. Someone may be extremely demanding, asking one pointless question after another. Or you will meet a pushy customer who will keep asking for your phone number and inviting you out, not accepting your refusal. And some people are simply stupid–it is not always their fault, and you just won’t be able to explain them what they want to know from you.

Are you ready to face such situations in your new job? And does such a customer behavior leave some mark on you, or can you forget it quickly and move on? Hiring managers try to find out these things while inquiring about your experience with a difficult customer. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this question. Do not forget to read also my notes below the answers, for some additional explanations and hints on what you should focus on while dealing with this one.


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer” interview question

  1. I remember one from my last job in desktop support. They really had no idea about basic technical stuff, and struggled to follow even the very basic instructions I gave them, such as pushing this or that button on their router and holding it for three seconds. What is more, they were getting angry as our call progressed. It was a tricky situation, because I could not send a technician over for such a simple issue. At the same time, they struggled to deal with it on their own. I eventually decided to go above and beyond for them, and shoot a simple video with my mobile phone in which I demonstrated exactly what they should do, giving instructions with my voice. It finally worked, and we managed to troubleshoot the issue.
  2. I recall many difficult customers from my last job in retail. I was working in a discount clothing store, a place where people came looking for a bargain. Many of them, however, demanded an extra discount. “This bra cannot be so expensive madam“, or “How is that that this second class t-shirt cost as much as 12 dollars“? Obviously it is not easy explaining them time and again that what they see on a rack is a final price, already discounted, and they cannot get a better one. But I always remained courteous, patient, and simply repeated my message to the customer. Some got it and some left the shop angry, saying a few bad words as they were leaving the door. But I simply always got over it and moved on to another customer.
  3. This is my first job application in retail, and I do not have an experience working with customers up to this point. However, I am well aware that it won’t always be easy here, and that customers can get upset for whatever reason, or for no reason at all. I believe that we have to stay courteous, trying our best to address their concerns, and then simply move on. Because some people simply want to vent their anger on you and you can do nothing to satisfy them. I have my experience with conflicts with colleagues, and can assure you that I can get over such things quickly and simply move on with my job.
  4. I remember one specific case from my last job in a coffee-bar. What happened is that I did not notice one customer at a table, and they were waiting for about ten minutes, before they stood up and started complaining. It was my mistake, I admit that, it was just a super long and tough day and I simply didn’t notice them coming. I came and apologized and offered them a free coffee–to whatever they wanted to order. Immediately I admitted it was my mistake, saying that I simply did not register them entering the place. This seemed to help a great deal and they calmed down quickly. I learned a couple of lessons on the day. First one, that I have to pay attention and scan the tables quickly with my eyes each and every minute, just to see if someone didn’t arrive unnoticed. And secondly that it is better to apologize than to make excuses, and that most customers will eventually calm down. I want to stick to these lessons in my new job as well.
  5. Sure enough, I dealt with unsatisfied customers almost on a daily basis in my last job in a call center. Because people called only when they either had a problem with their program, or when they weren’t satisfied with the bill they got from the company. I must admit it wasn’t the easiest job, and I heard a lot of bad words every day on the call. But I simply accepted it as a part of my work, and always tried to explain them, in a calm voice, why they had to pay as much as they had to. Sometimes it worked and they calmed down and sometimes it didn’t work, and they demanded to talk to the manager, or simply hung up the phone, calling me names before they did so. In such cases I simply forgot it immediately and moved on to another call. At the end of the day, I didn’t really have another option.
  6. I recall many instances from my job of a Loan Processor. The main problem was actually when the customer was too nice, trying to play some tricks on me, trying to manipulate me, or even trying to make their application look better than it really was, inflating some numbers. However, I understood the huge responsibility I had in that job, and always verified every single document they submitted, either with the tax office, or with their bank, or with their employer. Then I often had to tell them the bad news–that we could not move forward with their application. As you can imagine, not everyone was happy, and behavior of some people changed by 180 degrees immediately–instead of complimenting me they were swearing at me. But I did not care, I calmly explained what documents were missing or why we could not progress with their application, and that was it.
  7. I remember my part time job in a fast food restaurant. I often did night shifts, not in the best neighborhood, and things often got tricky on Friday or Saturday night. Many people came to the place drunk, some didn’t want to pay, some made stupid remarks, and so on. However, I had to bear with it, because Friday night and Saturday night we made the most money in the restaurant. I simply tried to do my job, keep my line, not reacting to any stupid remarks, and not giving them any food before they actually paid for it. It worked almost always, though it is true that at the end of some shifts I felt emotionally drained, and it is also one of the reasons why I left my job, and why I am now here in this interview with you.


Show them that you do not mind going above and beyond

Probably the best situation you can narrate is a one when the customer was initially dissatisfied, because you struggled to address their request, from whatever reason. But then you did something extra, something outside of your standard working duties. You went above and beyond for them, and eventually solved their problem.

As a rule of a thumb, you should pick a situation that had a good outcome, at least when you decide to speak about a particular situation with a particular customer, instead of explaining in general the tricky situations you faced with customers in your new job.

* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!

If you have no experience, tell them what you would do

Everyone has to start somewhere, and in many jobs in retail and hospitality sector previous experience isn’t required. If it is your case, try to visualize what is going to happen in your new job, what sort of tricky situations you may experience with the customers.

This depends on your place of work, of course. Car salesman, waitress, sales associate in clothing store, pharmacist, hotel receptionist, call center operative–each of them experiences different situations with the customers.

Think about the situations you will experience, think out loud in the interview, tell the hiring managers how you plan to deal with such situations, and ensure them that you feel ready to handle them, both physically and emotionally.


Customer is always right–but only to a certain point

Of course, everyone will expect you to deliver an outstanding customer service in work. And you should try to be nice, not getting involved in conflicts, trying your best to satisfy the customers,  and simply make sure that they will come to the store again.

But even customer service has some limits… You cannot give discounts you aren’t approved to give, you cannot move forward with someone’s loan application if they did not provide all necessary documents, and you cannot give someone free food just because they were waiting too long in the queue. Keep this on your mind while answering this question, and any other question about customer service you may face in your interview….


Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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