Interview Question: How Do You Handle Difficult Clients?

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: January 06, 2023

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You feel like your interview is going well. You’ve made a good first impression, and you’re sure you’ll land the job. But then the interviewer throws out a question like ‘Clients can be difficult. Describe a situation when you had to handle someone like this.’ This is one example of typical behavioral interview questions, and these can be tough to answer because they require more than just knowledge; they require experience. Interviewers may ask these questions to get a true feel for your personality and to discover if the way you handle situations is in line with the company’s values and goals. When your interviewer asks the above question, he or she is really trying to find out if you can maintain your composure when you’re under attack.

There are a few different ways the interviewer may phrase the question, such as, ‘Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a belligerent customer’ or ‘Describe an experience when you had to work with a rude or difficult client.’ This question and others like it may seem daunting, but if you prepare well, you can furnish an answer that impresses your interviewer and heightens your chances of getting hired. The best way to prepare is to keep the STAR method in mind.

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“How do you deal with an angry customer?” Interview Question

When answering interview questions about how you deal with angry customers or difficult clients, emphasize your abilities with staying cool, calm, and collected in the face of pressure. Also talk about how important it is to deliver stellar customer service, no matter what the situation. And emphasize your stellar problem-solving abilities!

1. Consider using the STAR Method

If you want to shine like a star during your interview, employ the STAR method of answering behavioral interview questions. The STAR method is easy to remember: Situation or Task, the Action you took, and the Result of your action.

When your interviewer says, “Clients can be difficult. Describe a situation when you had to handle someone like this,” start your answer by describing the Situation or Task. Be specific about this; you don’t want to give a general answer. Provide enough details to let the interviewer really visualize what was going on. After you set up the situation, tell the interviewer about the Action you took. This isn’t the time to applaud your teammate or your supervisor. Keep the focus on what you did to help resolve the situation. Finally, explain the Result. Did you manage to please the difficult client? What did you learn?

2. Be Respectful

When you’re talking about a time you had to deal with someone who was less than pleasant, it is easy for your language to veer into insulting territory. Don’t say that this person was “crazy,” “mean” or “dumb.” While the things you’re saying about this difficult person may or may not be true, your interviewer may balk at your seemingly negative attitude. Try to show that you understood how the difficult client felt. You want your interviewer to know that you’re capable of looking at a situation from different angles and that you genuinely want to please clients, not just appease them.

Also, be aware of your gestures and facial expressions when you’re answering the question. Don’t do anything that could make the interviewer think you don’t value the privilege of being face-to-face with clients. Clients are the lifeblood of a business, and you want to show that you’re well aware of how important they are.

3. Don’t Skirt Around the Question

If you have limited work experience, it may be a particular challenge for you to tell about a situation when you dealt with a difficult client. However, giving a vague answer about what you “would” or “might” do won’t cut it when it comes to behavioral interview questions. Instead of drawing on your work history for an answer, think about other situations in your life. Have you ever participated in any volunteer programs? What about extracurricular activities in school? Also, think about any part-time or odd jobs you’ve had. Something may have happened in one of these settings that could provide a satisfying answer to the interviewer’s question.

Sample ‘Clients Can Be Difficult. Describe a Situation When You Had to Handle Someone Like This’ STAR Interview Answer

I worked at a store that sold and repaired used appliances. We offered a pretty robust warranty with most of our stuff. However, one older gentleman misunderstood what our warranty covered. Some of his grandchildren had broken the door on his washing machine, and he expected us to pay for the repairs. That wasn’t technically covered by the warranty.

First I tried to explain the details of our warranty. However, he quickly got upset. Instead of insisting that he stick to the letter of the warranty, I assured him that we would do everything we reasonably could to help him with his situation. I knew we probably couldn’t repair his machine for free, so I offered him a voucher for a generous discount on the repair. He calmed down after that. A few months later he came back into our store, and he asked specifically to talk to me because he remembered how well I handled that previous situation.

1. How long is it okay to keep a customer waiting?

When answering this interview question, keep your response focused on attending to a customer’s needs in as prompt a manner as possible. Emphasize abilities with prioritizing customer needs. Note that when you inform a customer as to when you’ll attend to their needs, that you try to honor the timeframe you present as closely as possible.

2. Why should we hire you for this position?

When answering this interview question, talk about how your experience, skills, and talents align with the position’s requirements. Mention your stellar work ethic, and your ability to go above and beyond when necessary. Talk about how you’re The One for the job, but do it in a humble, non-bragging style. And never throw another candidate under the bus when answering this question.

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