Handling Difficult Customer Types

Mastering Customer Service with Leary's Rose, Transactional Analysis, and the DISC Model

Mastering Customer Service with Leary's Rose, Transactional Analysis, and the DISC Model
Article by
Bram Haenraets
Article update
November 8, 2023
Table of Contents

Every customer service representative, regardless of industry, will encounter difficult customers throughout their career. Whether they're angry, frustrated, or simply confused, these situations can quickly escalate into crises if not managed effectively. This is why mastering crisis management is a vital part of a service representative's skill set. This blog will provide practical strategies for managing these challenging situations, turning negative experiences into positive outcomes, and ensuring professionalism is maintained at all times.

Interaction behaviour models

Leary's Rose Model

Leary's Rose

Leary's Rose, also known as the Interpersonal Circumplex, is a model that describes different styles of interaction or behavior. It offers a way to map interpersonal behavior along two dimensions:

Dominance-Submission (Vertical Axis): This dimension describes the level of control or influence a person exhibits in an interaction. At one end of the spectrum is dominance (behaving in a controlling or leading manner), and at the other end is submission (behaving in a compliant or following manner).

Hostility-Affiliation (Horizontal Axis): This dimension describes the level of friendliness or hostility a person exhibits. At one end of the spectrum is hostility (behaving in a confrontational or disagreeable manner), and at the other end is affiliation (behaving in a cooperative or agreeable manner).

In the context of customer service, Leary's Rose can be used to analyze customer behavior and guide the representative's response. Depending on where a customer's behavior falls on the Rose (for example, high in dominance and hostility for an aggressive customer), representatives can adjust their own behavior to manage the interaction more effectively.

For instance, if a customer is behaving dominantly and with hostility, a representative may choose to behave submissively and with affiliation. This could involve calmly acknowledging the customer's concerns, avoiding confrontations, and expressing a desire to work cooperatively towards a solution.

Leary's Rose can also be used to help customer service representatives understand their own natural behavioral tendencies and how these may impact interactions with customers. For instance, a representative who naturally leans towards dominance might need to practice more submissive or affiliative behaviors when dealing with a dominant customer.

In essence, Leary's Rose can help staff in customer service roles to better understand the dynamics of their interactions with customers and adjust their behavior in ways that enhance communication, defuse conflicts, and ultimately lead to more successful outcomes.

Transactional Analysis Model

Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis is a psychological model developed by Eric Berne that helps to understand human behavior and communication. The model suggests that individuals can interact from one of three 'ego-states': Parent, Adult, and Child.

Parent Ego-State: This is a set of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we've 'borrowed' from our parents or parent figures. When we're in this state, we might find ourselves scolding, nurturing, or behaving as a guardian. This state is often expressed as nurturing or controlling.

Adult Ego-State: This state is about being present-focused and dealing with the world exactly as it is. When in the Adult ego-state, we operate based on the facts and reality, expressing rational thoughts and behavior. This state is characterized by objectivity, logic, and fairness.

Child Ego-State: This state is a set of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that we replay from our childhood. This could be the curious and creative Free Child, or the adapted child that learned what was 'allowed' and 'not allowed' in their world. This state often expresses emotions and reactions we learned as children.

In a customer service context, Transactional Analysis can help representatives understand the ego-state from which a customer is communicating, and adjust their own behavior to manage the interaction effectively.

For example, if a customer is behaving from a 'Parent' state (perhaps being critical or demanding), the representative can aim to respond from the 'Adult' state, providing calm, rational responses, and trying to move the interaction towards problem-solving.

Transactional Analysis can also help representatives understand their own natural communication tendencies and how these might impact interactions. For instance, a representative who naturally leans towards the 'Parent' state might need to be mindful of this when dealing with a customer behaving from a 'Child' state, to ensure they don't come across as patronizing or controlling.

Ultimately, Transactional Analysis provides a framework for understanding the dynamics of customer interactions and offers strategies for effective communication, helping to manage conflicts, and building positive customer relationships.

DISC Model

DISC Model

The DISC Model is a behavioral style analysis tool developed by William Moulton Marston. It categorizes behaviors into four different styles:

  1. Dominance (D): People with high dominance are assertive, direct, and value results above all else. They might come across as strong-willed or determined and may become frustrated if they feel they're not making progress.
  2. Influence (I): Those with high influence are social and prioritize interactions with others. They value collaboration and may become frustrated if they feel ignored or isolated.
  3. Steadiness (S): People with high steadiness are calm, reliable, and value stability. They might appear reserved and prefer to avoid conflict.
  4. Conscientiousness (C): Those with high conscientiousness are analytical, detail-oriented, and value accuracy. They prefer to think through decisions carefully and may become frustrated if they feel rushed.

In the context of customer service, the DISC Model can provide insight into a customer's behavioral style, helping representatives adjust their communication style to better match the customer's needs and preferences. For example:

  • For Dominant customers, representatives can be direct, focus on facts and results, and minimize unnecessary small talk.
  • For Influential customers, representatives can engage in more personal, friendly interaction, listen actively to their ideas, and emphasize collaborative problem-solving.
  • For Steady customers, representatives can be patient, explain things step by step, and provide reassurance.
  • For Conscientious customers, representatives can provide detailed information, answer questions thoroughly, and ensure accuracy.

Like Leary's Rose and Transactional Analysis, the DISC model can help representatives understand their own behavioral tendencies and how these might impact interactions with different types of customers.

The customer types

There are many ways to categorize difficult customers based on their behavior, needs, and interactions with customer service representatives. Here are a few common types:

  • The Aggressive Customer
  • The Impatient Customer
  • The Indecisive Customer
  • The Complaining Customer
  • The Silent Customer
  • The High Expectation Customer
  • The Negotiator
  • The Know-it-All Customer

We will dissect every type with all 3 behavioral models and what type of advice staff should get when dealing with each type.

The Aggressive Customer

These customers are highly emotional and often confrontational. They may raise their voices, use strong language, and demand immediate resolution. While they can be intimidating, it's essential to remain calm and professional when handling their concerns.

Leary's Rose:

An aggressive customer is likely to fall in the high-dominance and high-hostility quadrant of Leary's Rose. They tend to assert control over the situation and express strong negative emotions.

Advice: Aim for a low-dominance, high-cooperation approach. Stay calm, show understanding, and focus on finding a solution without getting drawn into a power struggle.

Transactional Analysis:

In terms of Transactional Analysis, an aggressive customer may operate from the 'Parent' ego state (criticizing or controlling), or the 'Child' state if their anger resembles a tantrum.

Advice: Aim to respond from the 'Adult' state, providing calm, rational, and assertive responses. Acknowledge their concerns, explain what can be done, and set boundaries if needed.

DISC Model:

From the DISC perspective, an aggressive customer is likely displaying a high 'Dominance' behavior style. They're direct, results-focused, and may become frustrated if they feel they're not making progress.

Advice: Be direct and to the point, focus on results and problem-solving, and minimize unnecessary small talk. Provide a clear path to resolution and quickly get to the bottom of their issues.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with an Aggressive Customer:

  1. Stay Calm: Maintain your professionalism and composure. Don't take their aggression personally.
  2. Listen and Acknowledge: Make sure the customer feels heard. Let them express their frustrations, and then acknowledge their feelings.
  3. Apologize if Necessary: An apology can sometimes help to diffuse the situation, even if the issue wasn't your fault. Make sure it's sincere and specific.
  4. Provide Clear Solutions: Aggressive customers want results. Offer a clear solution to their problem or explain what steps will be taken to get a resolution.
  5. Set Boundaries: If the customer's behavior becomes disrespectful or abusive, politely but firmly set boundaries.

Remember, the main goal is to deescalate the situation and work towards a resolution that satisfies the customer, while maintaining professionalism and respect.

The Impatient Customer

Impatient customers want immediate results and may become agitated if they have to wait. They require efficient service and quick responses to their queries or complaints.

Leary's Rose:

An impatient customer may exhibit high dominance and hostile behaviors on Leary's Rose, as they are looking for immediate results and may not be interested in prolonged social interaction.

Advice: Use a high affiliation, but assertive approach. Work to provide quick, efficient service, keep communication concise and straight-to-the-point, while maintaining a cooperative and understanding demeanor.

Transactional Analysis:

In terms of Transactional Analysis, an impatient customer may operate from either the 'Parent' ego state (being demanding) or the 'Child' ego state (showing frustration when needs are not immediately met).

Advice: Respond from the 'Adult' state. Recognize their need for speed and efficiency, keep explanations brief and solution-focused, and avoid getting pulled into a parent-child dynamic.

DISC Model:

From the DISC perspective, an impatient customer may exhibit 'Dominance' behavioral style, seeking direct and quick results, and becoming frustrated with delays or complications.

Advice: Align with their need for quickness and efficiency. Be concise, provide direct answers, and ensure the conversation is results-oriented. Provide timeframes for resolution where possible, and avoid unnecessary details or tangents.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with an Impatient Customer:

  1. Be Efficient: Make sure your responses are swift, clear, and concise. Avoid unnecessary small talk.
  2. Prioritize: Recognize their urgency and make them feel that their issue is a priority.
  3. Manage Expectations: If immediate resolution isn't possible, clearly communicate a realistic timeframe and make sure to follow through.
  4. Stay Calm: Keep your cool even if the customer is pressuring for quicker action.
  5. Assure Resolution: Reassure the customer that their issue is being addressed and will be resolved as quickly as possible.

The Indecisive Customer

These customers are unsure about what they need or want and may require significant time and effort to guide. They may frequently change their minds, leading to longer service times.

Leary's Rose:

Indecisive customers often fall into the submissive, high-affiliation quadrant of Leary's Rose. They may lack confidence in making decisions and often seek guidance and reassurance.

Advice: Aim for a high-affiliation, cooperative approach. Provide clear direction and guidance, while ensuring they feel supported and not rushed in their decision-making.

Transactional Analysis:

From a Transactional Analysis perspective, indecisive customers might operate from the 'Child' ego state, being unsure and needing reassurance, or the 'Adapted Child' state, looking for others to make decisions.

Advice: Respond from the 'Adult' ego state, providing calm, rational suggestions. Encourage their confidence in decision-making and offer guidance where necessary without taking over the decision.

DISC Model:

In terms of the DISC model, indecisive customers may display a 'Steadiness' behavior style, being cautious, deliberate, and seeking security before making a decision.

Advice: Align with their need for reassurance. Provide information patiently, clearly and ensure they understand all aspects before making a decision. Allow them the space and time to process the information.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with an Indecisive Customer:

  1. Patience is Key: Be patient and provide them the time they need to make a decision.
  2. Provide Clarity: Offer clear, concise information to help guide their decision-making.
  3. Reassurance: Regularly reassure the customer that they can ask any questions or for further clarification if needed.
  4. Encourage Decision Making: Help the customer feel confident about making a decision, but avoid pressuring them.
  5. Respect Their Pace: Don’t rush them or make them feel like they are taking too much time.

The main goal is to aid the customer in their decision-making process while maintaining a supportive and patient interaction.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Subscribe for cutting-edge hotel technology updates, and the newest trends shaping the hotel landscape. Don't miss out on valuable insights — join our community today.

Thanks for joining our newsletter.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Checklist Icon - AI-Tech X Webflow Template
Join 1,000+ subscribers
Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest industry news and product updates.

The Complaining Customer

This type of customer seems to find fault in everything, regardless of the efforts made to satisfy them. They often exaggerate problems and require a patient and empathetic approach.

Leary's Rose:

Complaining customers usually fall into the high-dominance, low-affiliation quadrant of Leary's Rose. They exert control through complaints and may display negativity in their interactions.

Advice: Aim for a low-dominance, high-cooperation approach. Be patient, show empathy, and concentrate on understanding their grievances and finding solutions.

Transactional Analysis:

From a Transactional Analysis perspective, complaining customers may operate from the 'Critical Parent' ego state, finding faults and expressing dissatisfaction.

Advice: Respond from the 'Adult' ego state, offering calm and logical responses. Acknowledge their feelings, validate their complaints, and work towards a resolution without becoming defensive.

DISC Model:

In terms of the DISC model, complaining customers likely display a 'Conscientiousness' behavior style, focusing on details, and pinpointing errors or discrepancies.

Advice: Align with their need for correctness. Show a meticulous approach, provide detailed explanations, and ensure their complaints are fully addressed.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with a Complaining Customer:

  1. Stay Composed: Maintain your composure and professionalism, even if the complaints seem unjustified.
  2. Active Listening: Listen attentively to their complaints without interruption. Show them you understand and empathize with their frustrations.
  3. Validate Their Feelings: Even if the complaints seem exaggerated, their feelings are real. Validate these feelings to build rapport and defuse the situation.
  4. Offer Solutions: After fully understanding their complaints, provide clear and practical solutions.
  5. Follow-Up: Ensure their complaints have been adequately addressed and they are satisfied with the solution.

The ultimate aim is to turn the situation around by resolving their complaints while maintaining a high level of professionalism and empathy.

The Silent Customer

Silent customers are hard to read as they offer little information about what they want or are dissatisfied with. They require proactive communication and thoughtful questions to understand their needs or issues.

Leary's Rose:

Silent customers tend to fall into the low-dominance, low-affiliation quadrant of Leary's Rose. They may not openly express their needs or dissatisfaction and may appear detached or indifferent during interactions.

Advice:Aim for a high-dominance, high-cooperation approach. Take the lead in the conversation while showing empathy and genuine interest in their needs.

Transactional Analysis:

In terms of Transactional Analysis, silent customers might operate from the 'Adapted Child' state, being compliant and not expressing their needs, or possibly the 'Withdrawn Child' state, pulling away from interaction altogether.

Advice: Respond from the 'Adult' state, initiating conversation and asking open-ended questions to encourage them to express their needs or concerns.

DISC Model:

From the DISC perspective, silent customers may display a 'Steadiness' behavior style. They are generally patient, calm, and may avoid conflict, leading to minimal communication.

Advice: Align with their pace. Be patient, provide a safe space for them to express their needs or concerns, and refrain from pressuring them for immediate responses.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with a Silent Customer:

  1. Patience and Understanding: Be patient, and remember that their silence is not a personal affront but a communication style.
  2. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage conversation by asking open-ended questions.
  3. Active Listening: Be attentive to their limited responses. They may contain valuable insights about their needs or concerns.
  4. Express Empathy: Make them feel understood and valued. A simple phrase like "I understand that this can be a difficult decision" can go a long way.
  5. Follow-Up: Since they may not openly express dissatisfaction, consider follow-ups to ensure they're happy with the service or product.

The primary goal with silent customers is to make them feel comfortable and valued, encouraging them to open up more about their needs or issues.

The High Expectation Customer

These customers expect the highest level of service and can be hard to please. They demand top-quality products or services and may complain if their high expectations are not met.

Leary's Rose:

High expectation customers tend to fall into the high-dominance, low-affiliation quadrant of Leary's Rose. They assert their demands and expectations clearly but may seem less interested in building rapport or relationships.

Advice: Aim for a low-dominance, high-cooperation approach. While maintaining professionalism, acknowledge their high standards, express a shared commitment to quality, and work collaboratively to meet their expectations.

Transactional Analysis:

In Transactional Analysis terms, these customers may operate from a 'Critical Parent' ego state, constantly judging and evaluating the quality of service or products.

Advice: Respond from an 'Adult' state, providing factual, objective information about the product or service and explaining processes or potential limitations clearly and confidently.

DISC Model:

From the DISC perspective, high expectation customers are likely displaying a high 'Conscientiousness' behavior style. They are detail-oriented, cautious, and place a high value on accuracy and quality.

Advice: Provide detailed information, adhere to high standards in your service, and demonstrate a systematic approach to problem-solving. Be prepared to explain processes in detail.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with a High Expectation Customer:

  1. Acknowledge Their Expectations: Validate their high standards, and assure them that you also strive for the highest quality.
  2. Detail-Oriented Service: Provide comprehensive and accurate information. High expectation customers appreciate a meticulous approach.
  3. Maintain Professionalism: These customers value competence. Ensure you're knowledgeable about the product or service you're offering.
  4. Proactive Communication: Keep them informed about the process, and alert them of any potential issues or delays.
  5. Manage Expectations: If their demands are unrealistic, explain the limitations honestly but tactfully. It's better to under-promise and over-deliver than the opposite.

The goal with high expectation customers is to provide high-quality service, effectively manage their expectations, and maintain an open line of communication about the process.

The Negotiator

This type of customer is always looking for a deal or discount. They may be challenging because they can consume a lot of time trying to negotiate prices or terms.

Leary's Rose:

Negotiator customers may oscillate between the high-dominance, low-affiliation quadrant (when pushing for a deal) and the high-cooperation, low-dominance quadrant (when trying to build rapport for negotiation advantage) of Leary's Rose.

Advice: When they're being assertive, match their energy with assertiveness of your own but without hostility. When they're being cooperative, engage and build rapport.

Transactional Analysis:

These customers might frequently shift between 'Parent' (setting terms, controlling) and 'Child' (seeking approval, being adaptive) ego states.

Advice: In response, you should flexibly operate from your 'Adult' state (being objective and data-driven) while also utilizing your 'Parent' state to set boundaries and 'Child' state to create rapport.

DISC Model:

In the DISC model, Negotiators may exhibit both 'Dominance' (direct, assertive) and 'Influence' (enthusiastic, persuasive) behavior styles.

Advice: Respond in a straightforward and transparent way to their 'Dominance' style while being receptive to their 'Influence' style. However, remain firm on your organization's policies and what you can offer.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with a Negotiator Customer:

  1. Stay Calm and Professional: Negotiators can be persistent. It's important to maintain your composure and professionalism.
  2. Know Your Boundaries: Be clear on what you can and can't offer or negotiate on. This will help avoid giving away too much or making commitments you can't fulfill.
  3. Build Rapport: Establishing a positive relationship can make the negotiation process smoother.
  4. Use Facts and Figures: Provide clear, logical explanations for your pricing or policies. This can help ground the conversation and guide it towards a resolution.
  5. Manage Time Efficiently: Negotiators can consume a lot of time. Try to guide the conversation efficiently while still making them feel heard.

Remember, dealing with a Negotiator customer effectively requires a balance of firmness and flexibility. It's important to maintain the value of your product or service while still working towards a satisfactory resolution for both parties.

The Know-it-All Customer

These customers believe they know more about your product or service than you do. They can challenge your knowledge and authority, making it tough to assist them effectively.

Leary's Rose:

Know-it-all customers tend to be high in dominance and low in cooperation on Leary's Rose. They exhibit a sense of superiority and may be resistant to input or help from others.

Advice: Meet their dominance with your own professional assertiveness and demonstrate a willingness to cooperate by acknowledging their knowledge while sharing your own expertise.

Transactional Analysis:

These customers often operate from the 'Parent' ego state, as they believe they have superior knowledge and may lecture or instruct service representatives.

Advice: Respond from the 'Adult' state. Listen to their insights, validate their knowledge when accurate, and gently correct misinformation or offer additional insights without belittling them.

DISC Model:

Know-it-all customers are likely high in 'Dominance' and may also display traits from the 'Conscientiousness' quadrant if they present detailed knowledge or a need for accuracy.

Advice: Respect their need for control and accuracy, and communicate in a clear, precise manner. Be assertive but respectful, and provide data-driven responses when necessary.

Advice for Staff when Dealing with a Know-it-All Customer:

  1. Stay Respectful: Acknowledge their knowledge and expertise. This will validate their feelings of competency.
  2. Communicate Clearly and Precisely: Know-it-all customers value accurate information. Make sure your responses are clear, concise, and accurate.
  3. Present Your Expertise: Demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the product or service. This will help build their trust and respect for your competence.
  4. Correct Misinformation Diplomatically: If they share incorrect information, correct them in a tactful way that doesn't belittle their knowledge or experience.
  5. Involve Them in the Process: Ask for their input or suggestions. This can make them feel respected and more likely to accept your guidance.

Dealing with know-it-all customers can be challenging, but by demonstrating your expertise and treating them with respect, you can turn a potentially difficult interaction into a positive one.

A.I-enhanced Customer Service Interaction

With Viqal's A.I. enhanced customer service interaction solution you can integrate these models into your daily operations ensuring optimal staff-customer interaction, real-time instructions and adaptive learning.

  • Real-Time Interaction Guidance: Viqal's AI can analyse live customer interactions using these models. For instance, by identifying vocal and language cues, it could predict a customer's placement on Leary's Rose, their dominant ego state from Transactional Analysis, and their behavior style using the DISC Model. This real-time analysis could prompt tailored advice for the customer service representative on how to best handle the customer interaction, adjusting the communication style or approach accordingly.
  • Adaptive Learning and Training: These models can also be integrated into the adaptive learning systems. Customer service representatives could receive personalised training, coaching them on how to navigate different customer types and situations. Real case interactions can be used as learning material, with the AI highlighting the customer's predicted profile and suggesting optimal responses or strategies.
  • Quality Assurance and Evaluation: Viqal's technology can review and evaluate customer service interactions based on these frameworks, providing a nuanced quality assurance process. It can identify situations where a representative might not have responded optimally, and provide targeted feedback and learning opportunities.
  • Predictive Analytics: With time, as more data gets accumulated, the AI system can start predicting the likely behavior type of the customer based on initial interactions or past behavior. This can allow representatives to tailor their approach proactively, thus improving service quality and customer satisfaction.
  • Enhancing Customer Profiles: Customer profiles in the CRM system can be enriched by adding this behavioral data, providing a more comprehensive understanding of each customer. This allows for more personalised and effective interactions, not just in problem-solving but also in sales and marketing efforts.

By integrating these theoretical frameworks, Viqal can provide a nuanced and sophisticated toolset to customer service representatives, enhancing their efficiency, their learning and development, and the overall customer experience.


integrating theoretical frameworks such as Leary's Rose, Transactional Analysis, and the DISC Model into customer service operations brings significant advancements. These frameworks help representatives navigate diverse customer types and situations effectively. They provide valuable insights into customer behavior, allowing representatives to adapt their communication styles and approaches accordingly. By incorporating these frameworks, customer service operations can achieve enhanced efficiency, improved staff-customer interactions, personalized training, quality assurance, predictive analytics, and enriched customer profiles. Overall, these integrations contribute to a more sophisticated and customer-centric approach, elevating the overall customer experience.

Frequently Asked Questions