How to Handle Difficult Clients and Customers
Difficult clients can not only rattle you in the moment, but also cause long term stress and strain on your business.
Long-term stress can cause you and your employees to experience a variety of symptoms, such as:
- Sleep problems
These symptoms can all translate into business downfalls, such as:
- Decreased morale
- Decreased motivation
- Reduced productivity
- Strained relationships with clients, customers, and employees
- Decreased business and financial performance
Fortunately, there are client management strategies that can help. These strategies are all based on emotional intelligence and empathizing with your client. The more you empathize, communicate, and identify your client’s needs, the better your relationship with them.
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How to handle a difficult client in the moment
Working with clients isn’t always easy. To handle an unexpected client or customer blow up, consider these tips:
You don’t want to respond to your angry client in an emotional way – this only escalates the situation. Instead, use a calm and understanding tone when you respond. One strategy to consider is using the client’s name. This can help the client feel like their concerns are being heard.
For instance, you can respond with “I’ll look up the information now, Mary” instead of “I’ll look up the information now.” Also, be sure to never get defensive with difficult clients. You should always stay neutral, and keep a calm facial expression.
Actively listen to what they’re saying
This means stopping and really hearing what they’re saying. Consider the validity of their complaints. You can ensure that you’re actively listening by:
- Making eye contact
- Asking questions when you don’t understand something
- Not brainstorming your next response while they’re talking to you
It can also be helpful to open your posture while you’re either sitting or standing. Closed positions such as folded arms may communicate that you’re not interested in what they’re saying.
Show concern and sympathy for the situation
You can do this by empathizing with what they’re saying. You may even want to find some common ground to relate to. Certain phrases that help you do this include:
- “I hear what you’re saying…”
- “I see your point…”
Always ask questions
Try to bring focus to the conversation with key questions. You want to discover important details that can help you solve the problem. Some questions to consider include:
- “What could we have done differently?”
- “What is your biggest issue?”
- “What would you consider to be a reasonable solution?”
- “How can we make it up to you?”
This is an important step when dealing with an upset or difficult client. You want the client to leave feeling understood, feeling heard, and knowing the problem is going to get fixed. Apologizing can help retain the client as a customer. A well-crafted apology has these elements:
Understanding – Empathize with your client with statements like “I’d be upset if I were you too.”
Sincerity – Don’t give your client a generic, or impersonal message. Instead, highlight key details you plan on fixing from their complaint. Avoid statements like “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “I’m sorry you were offended.” Statements like these don’t transmit real understanding.
When a client is upset, you’re going to want to solve the problem, not only for your current situation, but also to prevent any in the future. To do this, get feedback on potential solutions from the client. Together, you can work out a solution that fits the both of you.
Know when the situation is out of hand
Sometimes, no matter how you respond to a customer, they still won’t calm down. Clients who are out of hand typically:
- Won’t stop saying personal insults to you or your employees
- Won’t stop yelling or screaming at you or your employees
- Won’t listen to any logic you present
- Make threats to you or your employees
In a situation where a client is demonstrating behaviors outlined above, your first step should be to warn them in the nicest way possible.
For instance, say you have a customer who won’t stop yelling at your employee over the phone. Consider warning them that yelling isn’t going to help solve the problem. If they continue then you can mention that you’re going to hang up, and that they should call back after they’ve calmed down.
If a customer is displaying these behaviors in person, you may want to respond by:
- Warning them that their behavior won’t solve the problem
- Asking the customer to leave nicely, if they don’t calm down after a warning
- If they’re still carrying on after being asked to leave, it may be time to call security or the police
Asking an enraged client to leave is essential for everyone’s safety. You don’t want any injuries to occur.
Warning signs of a difficult client
If you’re like most small business owners, you’ve probably already encountered at least one difficult client. Luckily, if you keep an eye out for these early warning signs you can avoid difficult clients in the future. These warning signs include:
They fired the last person they worked with
To find out information on this, you can ask them direct questions like, “why did you want to work with us?” and “who did you work with last?”
They don’t respond consistently
If a client doesn’t respond promptly to your emails or calls, this can be a bad sign. It may indicate that they’ll be hard to reach while you work together. This can make a project take too long, and frustrating to complete.
To bring a project to completion everyone has to stay organized. If they’re being unclear or disorganized about the project outline, you may have future hold ups working with them. This can delay the project.
They question your price
If a client questions your rate early on, it can be a sign of a lack of trust. As a business owner, you should be able to easily state your rate without too much questioning. Clients should trust that you’re offering a reasonable price.
They want unrealistic deadlines
If they start demanding unrealistic deadlines this can be a sign that they may be difficult to work with. You should work together to determine a deadline that works for both of you. Clients that demand everything as soon as possible can become difficult fast.
Strategies to help deal with a difficult client
If you’ve found yourself working with a difficult client already, there are ways you can ease that stress. These include:
Always being prepared
With your team, brainstorm on the common issues the client raises, and other problems that have come up. Based on this, develop strategies to ensure you’re be prepared when you have to meet with the client again.
Admitting that you don’t know something
If you have a demanding client, admitting you don’t know something is especially important to communicate. When you do so, you can mention that you need to reach out to another member on your team for the answer and get back to them the same day. It can also be a good strategy to thank them for their patience.
Always use positive language
This can be easy for a small business owner to overlook. Avoid saying words and phrases like:
- “I can’t…”
- “Our company can’t…”
- “We won’t…”
- “We’re too busy….”
- “It’s not my job to…”
Working your hardest to solve the issue
Don’t focus on who is at fault; focus on solving the problem at hand. Discuss potential solutions with your client, and incorporate their feedback.
Following up regularly
Checking in periodically can help you identify any issues early on. This can help reduce the client’s frustration. After you’ve completed a project with a difficult client, you can also follow up with a thank you letter. This helps leave the relationship on a positive note, and may even help you get future business based on a recommendation from the client.
Set clear boundaries
Before you start working with anyone you should set clear boundaries and business standards. For instance, make your working hours clear to clients. This way they won’t expect a response back at 10 p.m. You also want to make sure that you stay consistent and true to your boundaries. If you let a client break them once, they’ll keep doing so.
Ensure that they respect your time
If a client is late to a meeting, it’s important to end at the normal time regardless of when it started. This sends the message that they can’t break your schedule and that ending later than usual isn’t an option. You only want to break your schedule for clients when there is a situation that’s out of the ordinary.
Communicate with your clients when they overstep their bounds
If a client is consistently trying to push you past your boundaries or go against your business policies, it may be time to have a talk with them. You can nicely remind them of your policies and expectations.
Don’t be afraid to say no
Saying no is important for maintaining your boundaries. For instance, you may need to say no to projects that are too time consuming for you or your employees.
There’s no doubt that working with difficult clients can take a toll on you. That’s why many small business owners give themselves a small reward for going through the stress – the difficult client tax. Increase your hourly rate up front for clients you’ve identified as difficult. Experienced businesses that work with clients don’t usually list their prices publicly. They also don’t disclose their price before discussing with the client. This gives you the opportunity to determine a price you think is fair based on the client and the work that needs to be done.
Learn to take difficult clients in stride
Difficult clients don’t have to bring you or your business down. With the proper client management strategies, you can effectively de-escalate situations in no time. From there, you can strategize with your team ways to meet even the toughest client’s requests.
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