We’ve all had to deal with them. You know, those agonizing, angry, frustrated customers that make our jobs so hard. Learning how to handle difficult clients in business isn’t easy, but it will make a big difference in how far you can go in your career. Business is business, but it can feel very personal when people get emotional and heated.
As much as we wish our clients and customers knew the right way to get better customer service, there will always be those who will be angry and irrational. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to mediate and rectify the situation as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
Most of the clients I’ve dealt with in my career are supportive, understanding, and willing to negotiate. But I’ve had to deal with my fair share of ones who have literally screamed into the phone, hung up on me, and asked for things that were totally out of scope.
And that doesn’t even include the countless times I’ve had clients ask for big projects at the very last minute and expect things to be done the next day. It isn’t just clients that can cause these types of headaches either. Having to work with other departments within your own company that are disorganized, irrational, and bad at communication can feel very much the same way.
Augh it can be so frustrating!! I’ve blurted out plenty of obscenities after getting off the phone with these type of people, but things don’t have to be so darn hard if we work at it.
How To Prevent Having Difficult Clients In The First Place
Ideally we want to avoid having these pain in the arse clients in the first place. There’s no guarantee your client relationships will be smooth sailing 100% of the time though. So you need to know how to handle difficult clients regardless. These steps will help keep incidents to a minimum.
- Thoroughly screen your prospective clients before signing any contracts (if applicable).
- Take down a list of all the things your clients want.
- Clarify up front if you know some of their wants are out of scope.
- Present your clients with a list of all of your current service/product offerings.
- Set clear expectations up front. Who/What/Where/When/How/Why.
- Do not over promise or agree to anything you can’t deliver.
- Do not try to hide or bury any fees.
- Be straight forward about all costs, fees, charges, expenses.
- Specify your return policy and guarantees up front and in writing (if applicable).
- Thoroughly test any new products and services before going client facing.
- Communicate clearly to your clients in advance of planned service outages.
- When unplanned outages and errors occur, provide explanations to your clients quickly.
- Have an easy way for clients to reach you if there are issues. Phone/Email/Text/Website/Live Chat/Forums.
- Have a business continuity plan and disaster recovery system tested and in place.
Tips For How To Handle Difficult Clients
Okay now that you’ve done your best to plan and prepare, it’s time to know how to handle difficult clients when things don’t go as expected. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or working for someone else, these are valuable skills to have and develop. The farther along you want to go in your career and the larger you want your business to grow, the more important these skills become.
The first thing a frustrated client wants is for someone to listen to him/her. I’m sure you can relate to this as we are all customers ourselves with other businesses. One thing that drives me crazy as a customer is when I have to repeat myself over and over again. So listen closely to what your clients are explaining to you. Don’t tune them out. And if something doesn’t make sense, ask questions in a calm voice.
If it turns out their issue needs to be addressed by someone else or another department, don’t just hand them over to someone else with no explanation. That drives me nuts as a customer! Get the next person up to speed on a quick three way call before you drop off. Ensuring a smooth handoff is essential.
Not only do difficult clients want people to listen to them, they also want empathy. And it’s understandable. When things go wrong, a client wants to know that their service provider recognizes there’s an issue that needs to be resolved. A show of support won’t fix everything but it goes a long way.
Simple sentences can help them calm down, and that will make your conversation a whole lot easier. Showing them you acknowledge there was an issue will open them up to hear what else you have to say. Don’t get flustered. Speak slowly and calmly. If you get upset too it will just make things much worse. Save your emotions for later. For example you can start off with something like:
- “I totally understand why you’re frustrated right now.”
- “I’ve noticed similar issues and agree something isn’t right and needs to be fixed.”
- “I’m so sorry you’ve had so many problems. I can see why you’re upset.”
- “Yes you’re right, there was an error. That must have been very frustrating for you.”
Once you’ve established that there is an issue that needs to be fixed, now you can dig into the details of what went wrong. You may have to take down their contact information and call them back. If so, let them know how long you think it will take for you to get back to them. If you still need more time after your original estimate, reach out and let them know you’re still looking into the issue.
If your client thinks you just wanted to get off the phone and have no real intention of actually following up, your relationship can be permanently damaged. Neither do you want them to think you forgot about their problem because you didn’t follow up when you said you would.
Now that you’ve gathered all your research, it’s time to repair the issue. Put in whatever extra steps in place you need to ensure the same error doesn’t happen again. Just because a set of procedures has worked so far doesn’t mean they are still appropriate if other things have changed. Showing your client you are taking action and adding preventative measures will help repair your relationship with them as well.
Have a meeting with the rest of your team as well to explain what happened so they can avoid running into the same problems with the same or other clients. Sharing knowledge, feedback, and research makes everyone more aware and able to provide better service going forward.
Once the issue that frustrated your client is resolved, don’t stop there. Take the initiative to rebuild your relationship. Offer them a perk of some sort. Perhaps a free product, gift certificate, or a month of free service. If they are close by, take them out for lunch or drinks and talk about things unrelated to business to get their mind off of the recent incidents.
People are much more reasonable and amenable face to face. It’s much harder to yell or get upset at someone when they are physically staring back at you versus over the phone. It’s also faster and much easier to move past issues when you have a follow up or ice breaker in person.
Untemplaters, how did you learn how to handle difficult clients in your line of work? What tips do you have from your experience? What has frustrated you the most as a client?
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