It's not always easy to know why customers behave badly. But sometimes they do, and how you handle the situation can be the different between retaining a happy customer – or losing one.

Every owner and manager of a small business understands the importance of customer service. Providing outstanding customer service is one of the factors that sets businesses apart from the competition and can make the difference between success and failure. However, the fact is that sometimes customers are difficult to handle. Whether someone is overly demanding, violates a store policy, is out of line, or is simply unpleasant, it is up to you and your staff to address the customer’s concerns. Ideally you want to do so in a manner that will ultimately benefit your customer and your business.

Understanding why a customer may be upset or angry can help you empathize with him or her and make it easier to connect with the person. Keep in mind that while a customer may not be in the right, he or she doubtless believes that to be the case. You don’t know what else is going on in your customer’s life. Maybe someone in her family is sick. Maybe he’s just had a disagreement with his wife. Maybe her boss just chewed her out, and now she’s worried about her job. The pandemic has taught us that even everyday life can be fraught with stress, uncertainty, and fear, and sometimes we let those emotions affect our behavior.

Displacement occurs when someone transfers his or her feelings about one source to another. So, if your customer is feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or worried about her family, she may displace those feelings onto something that isn’t related, such as a return policy she thinks is unfair or a request to wear a mask in your business.

To help prevent these kinds of altercations, consider ways to communicate your policies to customers. If you have a policy of mask-wearing, for example, an email blast to customers can let them know – as can clear, obvious signage on the doors. Include these policies on your social media accounts as well. It’s important to recognize that while some customers may not like these rules, others will appreciate the fact that you are taking steps to protect their safety. The way you communicate this message can make a difference, too; when a customer feels listened to and validated, you may be able to defuse a potential issue.

Ideally, you or one of your managers should handle an upset or angry customer. Listen to the customer, giving him or her your undivided attention. Reflect back what is said to show that you understand. Remain calm and repeat your policies. Be willing to make reasonable accommodations, but also remain consistent with the company policies to avoid further issues. To learn more about how to cope with a difficult customer, check out the accompanying resource.

Mihir Korke is Head of Acquisition at Clover Network, a leader in small business credit card processing and POS systems. Clover specializes in restaurant, retail, and personal and professional service payment solutions. With desktop and mobile POS systems, contactless payments, solutions for kerbside pickup and online ordering, loyalty and rewards, Clover has multiple solutions to meet your business’s needs.