When it comes to customer service, not every interaction is a walk in the park.
There’s no way of knowing the stressors or problems a customer may be facing in their day before they pick up the phone to dial an agent, making the job of a customer service rep all the more challenging.
Because no two customers and interactions are the same, it’s important to prepare your team to navigate every kind of customer conversation. And while the best types of customer interactions include personalization and empathy on the part of the representative, it can be helpful to share scripts with agents for when they find themselves in a tricky situation.
What are customer service scenarios?
Customer service scenarios are difficult situations a representative may experience on the job, such as not knowing the answer or talking with an angry customer.
Practicing how to respond when faced with a strange ask or an upset customer helps employees feel more confident when they do find themselves in such scenarios.
Additionally, using customer service scenarios in training can also help agents grow crucial customer service skills like conflict resolution, listening, empathy and self-control.
These scenarios can be used during the hiring process to gauge how a potential employee may handle difficult customer situations. They can also be used for ongoing training as a way to role-play tricky conversations.
How to Navigate 24 Difficult Customer Scenarios:
- You received tough feedback on social media
- You don’t know the answer
- The customer wants a refund
- You have to put the customer on hold
- You need to transfer the customer
- The customer wants to know why your product is the best alternative
- You have to tell a customer no
- The customer wants a product that is unavailable
- The customer requests new features to an existing product
- The product arrived damaged
- A problem is the company’s fault
- The customer wants to speak to a manager
- The customer thinks the price is too high
- There is a shipping delay
- The customer is extremely angry
- The customer wants a discount
- The customer wants to cancel their subscription/service
- You need to tactfully tell a customer they’re in the wrong
- The customer is asking how secure your website/service is
- You need more time to follow-up on a customer’s request
- The customer has called more than once about the same problem
- The customer speaks another language
- The customer is happy with the service or product
1. You received tough feedback on social media
While you may be tempted to not respond to negative feedback about your business on social media, data shows that consumers do expect a response when they take their issue online. According to ReviewTrackers, 51.7% of consumers expect businesses to respond to their negative review within seven days.
When replying to a customer who had a negative experience, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Get to the heart of the issue. Make sure you understand their complaint fully and do some investigating if necessary.
- Give a sincere apology that acknowledges any mistakes on your part.
- Offer solutions such as calling a customer to learn more about their experience.
- Remember that criticism of any kind is a chance to learn and grow as a company. So avoid getting defensive and rather focus on fixing that problem and avoiding similar mishaps in the future.
- Offer to take the conversation offline. This can be helpful if you have additional questions. It can also help de-escalate emotions by showing the customer that you’re empathetic to their problem and seeking a positive solution.
Here’s an example of a script you could use when replying online to a customer who left negative review online:
|Thank you for your review. I’m sorry to hear you had a frustrating experience, but I really appreciate you bringing this issue to my attention.
That’s not the kind of service we aim to offer and want to do what we can to make it right. One of our customer service reps will be reaching out to you to learn more about your experience.
It may also be a good idea to have a dedicated team own all replies to customers on social media. This helps make replies more uniform and keep better track of both positive and negative online interactions.
Brands like Xbox have a dedicated Twitter handle that respond to customer complaints in a friendly and approachable way. It’s also a good idea to share your business hours on your social media accounts to let customers know when to expect a response.
2. You don’t know the answer
There are times when you’re not the best person to answer a customer’s question, and that’s okay. It’s all about how you respond when that does happen.
While some experts recommend to avoid saying you don’t know, Apple teaches reps to say, “I don’t know, let’s find out!” This process of learning together can make for a more collaborative and memorable experience.
If you still aren’t sure how to answer, then check with another coworker or department or offer to follow up with them with a call back. Transferring a customer to someone else should be used as a last step.
Let’s say that a customer has called to ask about why the prices of two similar items are so different. The customer service agent isn’t sure about the way these items were priced, so instead of telling the customer he doesn’t know, he says this:
|I don’t want to give you inaccurate information so I’m going to talk with my colleague Brian to find an answer for you. Can you hold just a minute while I check with them?|
3. The customer wants a full refund
A refund is something you’ll want to avoid issuing if possible. This is when it’s important to understand your company’s return policy inside and out. It will help you speed up these conversations and think of creative ways to turn a refund into an alternative like sending a new product to replace a damaged one or compensating services that weren’t up to par.
Let’s say a customer wants to return a jacket. Start by pinpointing the exact reason the customer is seeking a return. Once you do that, you can use the return policy to help frame your response. Here’s an example of how you could do that:
|I’m sorry that the jacket ended up being too large when you tried it on.
Would you like to try the next size down? We’d be happy to ship it to you free of charge so you can try both sizes before making a decision.
If both don’t fit, we’re happy to issue you a refund or we can do an exchange if the smaller size works. How does that sound?
If the interaction ultimately ends in a refund, the customer will still appreciate the option to try on a smaller size. Another option in this scenario would be to add on a free incentive to shop again like a coupon code as a way to thank the customer for their business even if it didn’t go as planned.
4. You have to put the customer on hold
If you have to put a customer on hold, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, know that customers dislike being put on hold and two-thirds of customers are only willing to wait on hold for two minutes or less.
Next, be sure to ask the customer if you have permission to put them on hold and give them an estimated wait time.
Let me check on that for you.
Is it all right if I put you on a brief hold while I talk with our shipping department? It should only take a few minutes.
If you anticipate the wait time being longer than a few minutes and your customer service department has the capability to do outbound calls, you could also offer to call the customer back so they don’t have to wait on hold.
If not, keep the customer updated while they’re on hold if the matter is taking longer to resolve. These check-ins will let the customer know you haven’t forgotten about them and lower the risk of the customer becoming frustrated.
5. You need to transfer the customer
Occasionally, a customer may call the customer service department when their issue is more related to another department such as billing. When this happens, let the customer know why they’re being transferred. Keep in mind that transferring customers should be kept to a minimum.
Before transferring the customer, it may be a good idea to alert the person you’re transferring to about the situation so they have context before hopping on the call. You can do this by placing the customer on a brief hold, connecting with someone in the right department, and then letting the customer know who they’ll be speaking to before transferring them. This is known as a warm transfer.
If no introduction is needed or the customer’s issue is very straightforward, you can do a cold transfer where you send a call through to another agent without speaking to them first.
Here’s an example script you can use:
Thanks for contacting our customer service team. I’m sorry for any confusion but our billing department will be happy to help answer your question. If it’s all right with you, I’ll transfer you now.
6. The customer wants to know why your product is the best alternative
As a customer service representative, it’s important to have a working knowledge of the products or services your company provides. While you may not need to know a product inside and out, having a general understanding will help you field more general questions without needing to transfer a customer to another department.
If a customer asks why your product is better than an alternative, you may be tempted to immediately transfer the call to someone on the sales team. However, having your company’s value proposition handy could help you at least attempt to answer their question.
Customer support teams can also work in tandem with the sales team to better understand the value of their product or service. Cross-department training offers a chance for reps to learn responses to frequently asked questions and better equip themselves for these scenarios.
Here’s a general template you can use to respond in this scenario:
Thanks for reaching out for more info about our [specific product]. [Alternative company] makes a good product, but ours stands out because of the additional features X and Z.
I can also send you a more detailed comparison to your email address. If you’d like additional information, I can schedule a demo to show you our product in action.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind when you’re answering a question like this:
- Be respectful of your competitors.
- Provide concrete facts and numbers.
- Offer to share a competitor comparison or versus page if you have one handy.
7. You have to tell a customer no
While the age-old “the customer is always right” adage holds true in some situations, sometimes you do have to tell a customer that the answer is no. This can be a delicate situation, so here are a few tips to keep the interaction from escalating.
- First, ask additional questions to help you understand what exactly the customer is requesting. You can also try phrases like “What I’m understanding is that you’d like X” to help you and the customer get on the same page.
- Keep your tone positive. While these situations can be tricky, changing your tone from positive to robotic can seem as though you’re not empathetic to the customer.
- Loop the customer into the solution. As you’re working to resolve the customer’s issue, try phrases like “How does that sound?” or “What do you think would be a fair solution?” This can open up a fruitful dialogue and make the customer feel that their problem is being taken seriously.
- When you do have to say no, explain why. If a customer has requested a feature that is not yet available, let them know that the product team is working on another highly requested feature but that you will share their feedback with them. Or if something is unavailable or out of stock, explain why. This will help the customer feel as though you are listening to them even if the answer is no.
Here’s an example of how that conversation could look:
Thanks for giving me a bit more information about your request. At this time, we don’t sell that particular product. I’m sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.
While it’s not the exact product you mentioned, we do have [product name] that has [list similar features or a feature that makes it better than the product the customer inquired about].
Would you be interested in trying this product out?
8. The customer wants a product that is unavailable
Positivity is key with scenarios like this one. Even if a product is out of stock or unavailable, try to offer a similar product or issue a discount code for a future purchase.
Businesses using Shopify have the ability to offer stock updates through email or push notifications. Customers can receive automatic notifications when the item they’ve been eyeing is available again.
Here’s an example of how you could respond to a customer:
I’m sorry to hear that the product you wanted is out of stock. That’s one of our most popular products!
After taking a quick look, I see that the product will actually be available next month. I can place the order for you right now and make sure that it is sent to you as soon as it reaches our warehouse! Does that sound all right?
9. The customer requests new features to an existing product
Occasionally, a customer may reach out requesting new features to an existing product that aren’t currently available. You may be unable to implement those features for a number of reasons, but a standard response can help make it a smooth interaction.
Here’s an example of how you could respond:
|Thank you for taking the time to share this idea with us. I’ll be sure to pass it along to our product team.
Unfortunately, we can’t implement it at the moment as our team is working on X. If that should change, I have your contact information on file and will reach out to you personally to let you know.
Feature requests from customers also offer an opportunity to cross-sell or upsell another product that has similar features and functionality.
Look for opportunities to bump a customer up from a standard to premium plan if they’ve complained about limited features or let them know about a different product that has more of the functionality they’re looking for.
Another potentially uncomfortable situation you may face is letting a customer know that they violated the terms of service. In this instance, it’s best to assume positive intent and seek to remind the customer about the terms of service.
They might be unaware they have done anything wrong. Either way, contacting them will help you understand where they’re coming from and find an alternative solution.
Here’s an example of how you could approach this conversation:
|I’m calling to let you know that the TOS you agreed to on [insert date it was signed] has been violated. That includes [provide more detail about what was specifically violated].
I wanted to let you know about this and see if you had any questions regarding your account? I’m happy to address any further questions or concerns.
11. The product arrived damaged
If a customer has received a defective product, swift customer service intervention could help alleviate any anger or annoyance the customer may feel. The first thing you should do is get a clear understanding of what was damaged.
One of the best ways to do this is have the customer send a picture of the damaged item. From there, you can offer to send a replacement as soon as possible. If the product is out of stock, you may need to issue a refund.
Either way, be apologetic and take responsibility for the mishap — even if it’s not your fault. This could also offer an opportunity to work with or send feedback to the fulfillment team. Maybe they packaged the product to save costs or time which led to a damaged product and unhappy customer.
Sharing this type of customer feedback with the greater team helps to put the customer first and improve every aspect of the customer experience.
Here’s an example of how you might navigate this scenario:
|I’m so sorry to hear that your [product name] arrived damaged. This is not the experience we aim to provide for our customers and we want to make this right.
After looking at the photo you sent, it does appear that the screen arrived cracked. We would be happy to send you a replacement free of charge with priority shipping. How does that sound?
12. A problem is the company’s fault
Mistakes happen, but how you resolve them leaves an impression on customers long after the interaction is over. If a problem is the company’s fault, it’s best to address the issue as soon as possible and proactively reach out to the customer in advance, if feasible.
Let’s say a customer spoke to a representative to cancel their monthly meal subscription but ended up receiving a notification email the next day that the order was on its way. The customer also noticed they had been charged for the order.
Here’s an example of the script you could use to let them know about what’s going on:
|I’m so sorry for this inconvenience and this is completely on us.
It does look like you spoke with Anna yesterday, but your order wasn’t cancelled. I’m not sure why this happened but here’s what I can do.
I’ll credit you back the cost of the order so you can keep the delivery for free. How does that sound?
It’s also a great customer service practice to initiate a conversation about a problem or issue to help get ahead of customer communication. An example of this could be a power outage or if an urgent software update is needed.
HelloFresh does a great job of this regarding recalled produce that may have been included in certain meal kits. The company not only outlines exactly what type of product to check on and an apology for any problems the recall may have caused.
13. The customer wants to speak to a manager
If a customer requests to speak to a manager, it’s best to listen to the customer to help the situation from escalating.
Oftentimes, your leadership will offer the same explanation as you but hearing it twice can be enough to convince the customer.
Here’s an example of how to reply:
|I understand and thank you for your patience. My manager, Laura, is happy to talk to you. I’ll transfer you over right now.|
14. The customer thinks the price is too high
If a customer thinks that the price for a product is too high, you can start by justifying the price by describing the product’s unique features. Talk up the value of your product and dive into key features that make your product worth buying.
Here’s an example of how you could respond:
|I understand that this is an investment and wanted to share a bit more about what makes our product stand out.
[Explain benefits of feature one, two, and three.]
If the price seems too expensive, we do offer a semi-annual sale on [date] and this product will be on sale. Does that help?
If the customer is still after a discount, you could let them know of an upcoming sale or share a discount code if able.
15. There is a shipping delay
Shipping delays happen, and they’re often out of your control. When a customer calls to ask where their item is, it’s important to be transparent about the situation. Are there industry-wide problems? Supply chain issues?
For example: When Boxycharm, a cosmetics subscription box company, discovered their shipments would be delayed two weeks, they immediately sent an email out to all of their customers letting them know and providing a timeline for when they would receive the box.
Communication is key in this scenario, and agents should look to provide a realistic timeline of when they can expect their package. The emphasis here is to communicate a realistic timeline, not an idealistic one. It’s better to have the product arrive early than tell them an unrealistic arrival date and risk letting your customer down.
Here’s a sample script to help you navigate this situation:
I’m so sorry for the delay.
We understand how frustrating it can be to have orders not go out on time and we want to be transparent with you about what’s happening with your purchase.
Many of our most popular items are out of stock unexpectedly, which has caused us to not be able to ship in a timely fashion. We apologize for the inconvenience this is causing. To help address the situation as quickly as we can, your order has been split into two separate shipments so that you can at least receive the products that are currently available.
Offering transparency about why an issue occurred with solutions (such as sending items in separate shipments as they come in stock) will help to repair broken trust with a customer. Adding in a free item or a special promo code can be the icing on top and lets the customer know how much you value them and their business.
One example of a company that handled this issue well is Pura, a home fragrance provider. When supply chain issues impacted monthly shipments, they sent an email to customers with an explanation of why this was happening along with a solution and a promo code of 50% off a future order.
16. The customer is extremely angry
When a customer reaches out and is extremely angry with their experience, it can be easy to go on the defense. Instead, try to keep a positive mindset and seek to get to the root of the customer’s unhappiness.
Remember to treat your customer with respect and use positive phrases such as “I appreciate you bringing this to our attention” and “Your business means a lot to us.”
Another approach is to use phrases of courtesy. Renée Evenson, author of Powerful Phrases for Dealing With Difficult People, provides a collection of courteous phrases to show your customer you respect them.
A few examples include:
- “I apologize. I didn’t hear/understand what you said.”
- “Will you?” rather than “You will.”
- “Sir” or “ma’am”
- “I’ll check and be right back.”
- “Will you hold for a moment while I check on that?”
- “Thanks for waiting.”
- “Yes” rather than “Yeah”
- “Mr./Mrs./Ms. _____” (Address by the first name only if you know that’s appropriate)
Let’s say that an upset customer is calling about an item they were billed for that never arrived. Here’s an example of how you could begin this type of situation:
Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. This is not the type of experience we want to provide for our customers and I can understand your frustration. Let’s find out why this has happened.
If the solution or explanation you provide doesn’t de-escalate the situation, it may be a good time to loop in your supervisor. And if the customer uses curse words or disrespectful language, it may be time to end the conversation.
As Shep Hyken points out, not every customer is right for you.
“If the customer crosses the line, it may be time to fire the customer, politely sending them on their way to the competition. A bad customer can hurt morale and make the working environment uncomfortable. Just as bad, a manager that won’t stand up to the customer and support his/her employees can have a negative impact as well.”
17. The customer wants a discount
Customers may be looking for a discount for a number of reasons. And discounts are more common in certain industries like e-commerce compared to the service industry, meaning that how you approach the customer conversation will be different depending on your industry.
Let’s say you work at a cleaning company and a customer calls to ask about a discount on a home cleaning service. It’s not in your company policy to give discounts on cleanings. To find out more information, you ask why the customer is looking for a discount. It turns out that they don’t want their entire house cleaned, just a portion of it.
Here’s how you may approach that conversation:
I completely understand you not wanting to pay for a full house cleaning if you only want to have the bathrooms cleaned. We do offer cleanings by room.
You mentioned you have two bathrooms that need to be cleaned. The price for that would be $50 — which is half of what a full home cleaning would cost.
Is that something you’re interested in?
If your company does issue discounts on occasion, then approach each customer inquiry on a case-by-case basis. Listening and showing empathy can go far in these instances and offer an opportunity to turn a new customer into a loyal one.
Alternatively, a customer may come to you with an expired coupon asking if they can still use it. You can use your best judgement based on your experience and your company’s policy on whether or not to honor the expired coupon. Or you could try offering an ongoing coupon code instead.
18. The customer wants to cancel their subscription/service
A customer looking to cancel their subscription offers a great opportunity for you to convince them to stay by giving a discount or additional incentive. This is a common occurrence with subscription services. In fact, a McKinsey report found that 40% of e-commerce subscribers have canceled their subscriptions.
You can get to the root of why they want to cancel by asking additional questions during your conversation. Here’s an example of how that could go:
Thanks for reaching out. I understand you’re looking to cancel your monthly subscription. I can certainly help you with that, but first, may I ask why you want to cancel?
From there, you can offer tailored solutions depending on the customer’s answer. If price is an issue, offer a discount if possible or monthly payments rather than one lump sum.
If the customer still holds firm on wanting to cancel after exploring additional options, honor their wishes. Let them know that you’re grateful for their business and if they’re open to it, share a survey link with them to learn more about their experience to help you with future customers.
19. You need to tactfully tell a customer they’re in the wrong
A key thing to keep in mind if you encounter a customer who’s in the wrong is to avoid the words “you’re wrong.” Additionally, don’t place blame on the customer.
Let’s say a customer typed in the wrong shipping address when they did their online checkout.
Here’s an example of you you could respond:
|I’m so sorry your package arrived at the wrong address. After looking into your order, it does appear that the address you typed in is where it arrived. I’m happy to ship out a new package while we wait for the original to be returned to sender. Would that work?
Additionally, I’m happy to update your customer preferences to remove the incorrect address to help avoid this in the future.
Offer clear examples of things they can try to resolve the issue. If it’s easier to share a video or more in-depth article on your FAQ page, you can also try that.
20. The customer is asking how secure your website/service is
Understandably, security and privacy are top concerns for customers when choosing a product or service. It’s important to have a working knowledge about what your product does and does not offer security-wise.
You can do this by focusing on your product’s strengths and give clear examples of how your product offers security.
Here’s an example of you could respond:
|I appreciate you taking the time to ask about our [product name]. We understand that security is a top concern for our customers so we’ve worked hard to implement [feature] to avoid data breaches. We also have [feature] and a dedicated staff of data engineers to help keep your information safe.|
21. You need more time to follow up on a customer’s request
If a customer’s request will require contacting several departments or getting approval from your management team, it may benefit the customer to give them a call back rather than put them on hold.
You could also try the sandwich method of information delivery by giving them a compliment, telling them the bad news, and then ending with another compliment.
Here’s an example of how to do that:
|What a great question. To provide you with the best possible answer, I’m going to need to check with a few of my colleagues. Is it alright if I give you a call back later this afternoon after I’ve spoken to them? I appreciate your patience and thanks again for bearing with me as we work through this.|
22. The customer has called more than once about the same problem
Customers may contact you multiple times with the same question or problem. Billing-related questions are often reasons for customers to call multiple times, as you can see in this McKinsey report below.
As a general rule of thumb, a customer’s problem should be resolved after the first call. This is called first call resolution, or first contact resolution. The more that a customer has to contact a business to answer their question or solve their problem, the more room there is for anger to begin bubbling.
You can keep your FCR rate high by actively listening to your customer and seeking solutions to help make the process easier for them. If a customer has called multiple times about where to find their bill, you might help them bookmark that page on their browser for easy future access.
Let’s say a customer calls each month to make sure their payment went through. Here’s an example of how you can help them:
After taking a quick look at your account, it does appear that your payment went through. Did you see a notification after you hit “submit” letting you know that your payment was approved?
Next month, if you wait a few seconds after submitting, you should see that notification. You can take a picture of it for your records and if any problems arise, we’ll be sure to reach out to you.
For a more long-term solution, think about adding the customer’s question to your FAQ page or creating automated emails that let a customer know that their payment went through correctly.
23. The customer speaks another language
When communicating with a customer whose native language is different from yours, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep your words simple and avoid jargon or slang words that can be easily misinterpreted.
- Talk slower, not louder.
- Repeat back what you’re hearing using phrases like “I’m hearing that you’re experiencing X, is that correct?”
- Use Google Translate or a similar website to translate phrases.
- Try omnichannel methods like chat or SMS if both you and your customer continue having trouble understanding one another.
Here’s an example of what you can say if you pivot to chat or SMS from a phone call:
Thank you for your patience. Would you be alright finishing our conversation through text to help us better understand each other? I will stay on the line as we communicate in case you have any trouble.
If you have an international customer base or want to grow your customer base, it might be a good idea to increase the number of bilingual support staff agents or invest in an interpretation service to show you value your customers.
24. The customer is happy with the service or product
Not every customer interaction is a positive one, so receiving a call that a customer is happy with the service or experience can be a breath of fresh air. Always start these conversations by thanking the customer for sharing their thoughts and find out a bit more about what made their experience a great one.
Here’s an example of how to reply:
|I’m so happy to hear that you had such a positive experience, Sierra.
We really appreciate you taking the time out to share your experience with us — and are happy to hear that you loved [insert the specifics about their positive experience].
We look forward to working with you again in the future!
You could also offer the customer a link to help them share their thoughts with other customers through a short survey or online review.
Difficult customer conversations are bound to happen, but combating them with good customer service best practices can help minimize the amount of disgruntled customers.
Using these scenarios during customer service training can help employees feel more comfortable and confident as they navigate any type of situation.
Try having team members practice these customer service scenario examples as a role-playing exercise to troubleshoot any areas that could be improved before the situation involves an actual customer.
For additional resources to help you provide an excellent customer experience, Nextiva’s Service Tools allow your teams to know more about their customers and answer questions faster — something customers (and agents) will love.