Dealing with Difficult Customers

Hi Readers!

Welcome to all of you new folks here. 👋

The fact that 2,621 of you are signed up to this newsie to learn about CX & Retention on a weekly basis makes me feel all kinds of ways.

Okay; let me catch you up on everything that’s been going on since we chatted last.

Last weekend, I used some Bilt points for a staycation in Philly at the Hyatt Centric. Not even five minutes after we walked into the hotel room, I turned around to see this:

IDK where this kid gets this daredevil energy from, but I’ll tell you this—it ain’t me.

We spent Sunday visiting my big brother who is about to start his career in biglaw and who also happens to be the editor of this newsie (hi Avi 💚) and had a Vietnamese-style dinner cooked by Julie, my chef sister-in-law.

Highlights: Bánh mì and Pho.

This week is slightly less fun though. Mom had surgery and is at NYU resting up for the bulk of the week. This newsie comes from her bedside. 🛌

August will be one of the best months in Jones Road history, and also marks a full 6 months since I joined. Sheesh, it’s been a ride. 🚀

If you are new here, welcome. It means the world to me that you take a few minutes out of your chaotic week to listen to me ranting about all things CX.

I value that more than you can imagine.

This week’s newsie is sponsored by Gorgias, my favorite CX helpdesk, which helps our team create memorable customer experiences. If you have been here for a hot minute, you know how much I love Gorgias and why I think it’s an absolute must-have for any Shopify business.

P.S. If you want to learn more about Gorgias and see some of my favorite automations, check out Newsie #4 to learn more.

Okay, enough jibber jabber. Let’s get into this week’s newsie.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “how do I deal with obnoxious customers?”

This week, we are finally covering that.

Let’s dive in.

1. Biggest Q: is the customer always right? 

Let’s jump right into *the sauce*.

With all due respect to Mr. Marshall Field, I don’t believe the customer is always right.

There. I said it.

The customer should always have a voice, but that certainly does not mean they are always right.

When a customer reaches out super unhappy, screaming and yelling, we should be listening to them and trying to answer 3 very simple questions:

a. Did we set incorrect expectations here?b. Is there more to this story than meets the eye? I.e., is this not the first time we screwed up with this specific customer…? c. What can we learn from this incident to optimize our future customer interactions?

2. Okay, let’s talk practical and tactical:

When it comes to angry customers, I certainly have experience. 😫

Hell, my first gig was replying to emails from customers who were waiting 2+ years for a suitcase. Safe to say, nobody was very happy.

Here are some tips and tricks I used back then that I still use almost daily now.

1. Validate: As CX’ers (and brand owners) who tend to think we are doing an OK job, our first reaction to a screaming customer is “hey, you are wrong—here’s why”.

When conversations transform to combat, there is no winning. Screaming matches rarely end in either side being happy.

Instead, focus on conversations like this with one simple goal:

Ensure the customer understands that regardless of the issue and who is at fault, their feelings are validated.

Having sympathy for the customer does not mean acknowledging that you as a brand messed up. It means that you are sympathetic to the feelings they are feeling, which almost always diffuses tension in arguments.

One of my favorite books on human behavior is the famous “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. He shares a quote from Dr. Arthur I. Gates on sympathy:

“Sympathy the human species universally craves. The child eagerly displays his injury; or even inflicts a cut or bruise in order to reap abundant sympathy. For the same purpose adults … show their bruises, relate their accidents, illness, especially details of surgical operations. ‘Self-pity’ for misfortunes real or imaginary is, in some measure, practically a universal practice.”

Dr. Arthur I. Gates

2. Me vs We:The biggest mistake brands make is “finger-pointing.”

When a customer reaches out with an issue, most brands immediately take one of two routes.

  • It’s not our fault (insert blame on manufacturer, distributor, shipping company, etc.)

  • Opt for an effusive “we are so sorry” apology to avoid any personal accountability, and it feels more like lip service than anything meaningful.

Now, while it might not be your fault or your responsibility in every single case, you can still feel sorry for the way their experience went.

Feeling sorry for someone who is ill does not mean it’s your fault, it means you feel sorry for what they are experiencing.

Deflecting blame hardly ever makes a customer less angry.

When you take an approach of “Me vs. We”, two things happen.

  • The customer feels validated and heard

  • They have a harder time being mad at Eli than being mad at the company he works for, facilitating further productive conversation rather than an acrimonious shouting match

3. Listen, then respond: While some of this may sound like a marriage counseling course (it is—you’re welcome!), customer deescalation is essentially the same—you are managing the betrayal of relationship expectations.

If a customer puts faith in your brand and spends their hard-earned money on your product or service, they feel wronged when it does not go as expected.

Before giving them your whole spiel, ensure you are taking the time to listen to why they feel the way they feel.

When things are super feisty, I’ll often even try to get the customer on the phone.

Sounds counterintuitive, right?

Well, I find that very often folks have an easy time typing crazy things with their thumbs when they are shielded from the human on the other screen, but are more inhibited and easier to talk to on the phone.

Listen, validate, then respond.

4. Resolution is not always a full refund:I was consulting with a supplement brand a few years back and helping them set up their CX processes and policies.

I remember seeing a customer reach out asking about a $150 order that was delayed a full month. The CX’er processed a full refund for the order.

Amazing, right?

Nope, the response from the customer was lukewarm at best.

“I never asked for a refund, I merely wanted to know why a $150 order went a month without shipment or an update…”

Refunding a customer is not always optimal, as quite often validation and apology is more meaningful to a customer than a refund.

It’s important to read between the lines to try to understand if there is something they are “asking for.”

E.g., “I spent $90 on a tee shirt expecting a luxury experience. The shipping has taken weeks, and I am now annoyed about this experience entirely. It’s not worth the $90!”

In that case, here’s how I would respond:

Hi Jeffrey,

Eli here, Director of CX at NotYoMommasTeeShirts.

I am so sorry to hear about your experience with us. I can completely understand your expectation around faster shipping and better communication.

Frankly, I’m right there with you. Really sorry we let you down here.

While our orders generally ship within 1-2 days and with priority shipping, it seems like your order slipped through the cracks.

This is certainly not the experience I aim for at NYMTS.

Here is what I’m doing to resolve this for you:

1. I reached out to the fulfillment team to ensure it is on the way to you, tracking is here:

2. I have set up a meeting with our VP of Ops to understand how your order completely fell off the map to ensure this never happens again.

3. I am processing a refund for 40% of your order as a token of appreciation for your patience and understanding throughout.

This is my personal email—please do not hesitate to reach out if anything else comes up. You can be certain we take feedback like this really seriously.

Kind regards,


Validate. Me vs. We. Listen, then respond. Resolve.

3. Yes, you can fire a customer:

As a CX leader, there’s almost nothing more frustrating than watching some crazy customer take out their frustration on my team.

Right up there near the toxic idea of “the customer is always right” is the idea that a customer can’t be fired.

I’ve got a pretty straightforward policy on this:

Three strikes and you are out. Strikes are generally things like abusing refund policy, being obnoxious on social, etc.

Here’s the exception to this rule: If a customer verbally abuses my team.

That’s my red line. I’ll always stand up for my team.

How would you go ahead and fire a customer?

Quite simple, let me write you a draft:

Hi Karen,

Eli here, Director of Customer Experience at NYMTS.

It’s come to my attention that you had a scuffle with a representative on our customer experience team.

We have a strict policy that customers who disrespect our employees are no longer welcome to our site or store.

As per our terms and conditions stated here, we are permitted to refuse service based on our discretion.

As of today, you will no longer be allowed to shop on our website.

Appreciate your understanding,


If you want to build a stellar team, it’s imperative for the team to know that you don’t just support them as employees, but you have their back through thick and thin.

That’s it for this week!

Any topics you’d love to see me cover?

Drop a reply!

Appreciate you more than you know,

Eli 💛

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For this week’s CX Chronicles, I’m stoked to feature Sarah Hertz, CX Manager at Pela, the parent company of Pela Case and Lomi.

It’s no secret that Pela is crushing it. They are doing 9-figures in revenue and are on a mission to “create a waste-free future”. Pela Case is the world’s first fully compostable phone case, and Lomi is a countertop composter.

Sarah leads the incredible CX team there!

1. What is your CX Philosophy?

Our CX philosophy is multifaceted and a huge part of how our entire organization functions. It all starts with the customer, ensuring that we are providing them with the most exceptional personalized experience ever. We pride ourselves on creating an experience that is above and beyond and meeting the customer where they are. We work hard to be there for our customers, finding innovative solutions, creating kinship and making changes to the customer journey based on what they have asked for or struggled with.

Remember that honesty, heart and innovation are always key when thinking about how you can help a customer. We always give our team the tools to help the customer with a quick solution and that extra touch that makes them feel genuinely valued. Every single customer is special, they are the reason we are here and we never discount their frustration. Instead, we turn that frustration or issue into a solution and/or advocacy.

Customer experience is more than just communicating with a customer when they reach out. It ensures that at any point when they interact with our brands (website, retail, social media, ads and community) they have a feeling of comfort, ease and inspiration. We put our mission first and have always been a mission-based company. Aligning the customer journey and information to the mission helps them understand they are part of something bigger than just a product; they are truly helping to create a waste-free and better future for all.

2. Your favorite Pela/Lomi CX story?

It is honestly so hard to pick one, there are so many and that truly warms my heart. We share our amazing customer stories to our entire team daily and it's a great way to show the impact we are creating. I love every share that aligns with our mission and shows we are not just selling a product but we are improving people's lives and offering them something to believe in. We even share those funny and odd comments with our entire team daily. For example, “Can you put human bones in Lomi…asking for a friend!.’’ It helps all members in our organization better understand our customers or have a little laugh.

In 2019, we began thinking about how we could further connections to our mission and customer base. We launched a program we call WOW, where our CX team selects a customer that has represented one of our four company values (which guide our entire organization and further our mission) and we WOW them with a little something.

One recent WOW recipient was going through a hard time with a lot of personal loss and struggle. We had no idea of course, and WOW’d them after a simple interaction with us. She sent us a thank you that made me cry about how our small thank you made her smile despite all she was going through. She shared that she already loved us as a company and product, but now she would be a “forever supporter.”

It does not even have to be a WOW or some gift. Honestly, that little touch that makes them feel special is what all humans are looking for. All brands need to always remember that even a few words of empathy, a policy exemption, personalized advice and consideration can make your customers loyal forever and is great for your brand.

Eli here: P.S. Cody and I actually chatted with Matt, CEO of Pela and Lomi, on the podcast a few weeks ago! Listen here.

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