6 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Clients

It happens to all of us eventually. You receive a phone call or nasty e-mail from a client who just isn’t happy.  I’m not talking about the occasional misunderstanding here.  I’m talking about that one client who instantly makes you think, “Ugh, now what?!”  You might label them as your “difficult” client.  You may also use other words for them, but this is not the place for THAT discussion! Before you screen your calls or send them directly to voicemail, know that there is hope! Here are some tips for dealing with that difficult client.

  1. Listen: Your initial thought might be, “Here they go ranting again”, but take a moment to truly, actively listen to what the customer is saying.  Take some brief notes. Often, our first instinct is to become defensive.  We all strive to do our best and we don’t always like to be challenged.  However, put yourself in their shoes.  Pretend that you are the one receiving the product/service.  This may change how you view the conversation.
  2. Don’t Argue: As difficult as it is sometimes to bite your tongue, this is the time to keep it clamped in your mouth.  Arguing will not help even in a situation where you know that you are right and they are wrong.  Regardless of where the fault lies, an angry customer is quick to share their displeasure with anyone else who will listen.  It is not worth getting a bad reputation for your business for the chance to say that you were right.
  3. Identify and Repeat: After actively listening to the client’s point of view, identify the issue and repeat it back to them.  For example, “I just want to make sure I’m understanding the issue correctly, Mr. Smith.  You’re saying that the pens that were shipped to you have no ink in them?”  By the way, this situation really happened! Summarizing and repeating the problem back to the customer shows them that you understand their point of view.  This action alone may instantly bring them down a notch from their agitated state.
  4. Apologize and Take Action: Express your concern and offer apologies. Explain to the client how you plan on handling the problem.  If it’s not an easy solution that can be reached at the moment, be sure to tell them that you will investigate the issue and get back to them as soon as you can.  Then make sure that you do follow up with them as soon as possible.  The best way to keep this customer coming back is to show them that you are true to your word.
  5. Ask: Sometimes you will have a client that does not seem happy with your proposed resolution.  They may still seem quite upset and repeat their story once again.  In this case, it may be best to ask the client how they would prefer to handle the issue.  Perhaps they want a discount on a future project.  There are also some people that really just want to be heard.  They may not want you to take action.  They just want you to listen, validate and apologize for the inconvenience.  This client will go on their merry way and not dwell on the situation.
  6. Cut Your Losses: Hopefully, this step doesn’t happen.  However, this may be a client that never seems to be happy.  They always have something to complain about and ask for freebies or discounts all too often.  This is when you have to trust your gut. Ideally, there should be a mutual respect.  You should enjoy what you are doing and your clients should enjoy working with you.  If the relationship has become more stressful than enjoyable, it may be time to go your separate ways.  This is never an easy decision to make, but you may want to explain to them that you no longer seem to be a good match.

Let’s face it- none of us look forward to dealing with these difficult situations.  The bulk of our time should be spent happily producing quality work and enjoying the interaction with our clients.  The instances above should not be a regular occurrence. However, when an issue does arise, be prepared.  Open your ears, take out a pen and take some notes.  Just be sure the pen you choose has ink!  Feel free to share your stories with me in the comments section.

11 thoughts on “6 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Clients”

  1. I’m a fan of #6 – aka fire the client. I used to be afraid of this final step, but I eventually had the guts to fire a very difficult client a few years back and it was fantastic. Nowadays I’m a little choosier, I don’t want to work with clients that are going to give me extra stress and make me insane. If I see a client relationship that isn’t working out, I will politely let them know, refer them to other smart folks, and then move on.

  2. Good points. And sometimes you need to recognize the client may be having a really bad day and what may seem minor to you may be the last straw for them. Either way make a decision and act on it but don’t let it ruin your day!

  3. I might have to give this to my auditors…maybe they can benefit from #1 most of all! Kidding, kidding…or am I 🙂 Great tips. It’s so easy to just tune someone out who is ranting and raving when they may have valid points you need to address.

  4. Carol,
    That is so true. The client may be at their wit’s end, and chances are, it’s not your fault! Take a minute to shake it off and move on with your day. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Aleksandra,
    Yes, sometimes something as simple as listening can be hard. The whole time we might be thinking, “come on, already”. But sometimes it’s necessary to let them get it all out in order to move on. Thanks for the comment and the visit:)

  6. Alicia:

    Great tips here. I have found that patience is so key in dealing with clients/customers. Even those who are not rude or irate…sometimes people are pokey about making decisions or don’t return calls/emails….all takes patience.

    I especially like your point about identify and repeat. Making sure we are all on same page!!

    All the best,

  7. Lisa,
    Yes, repeating the issue back to the client is so important.There is nothing worse than dealing with an irate customer, thinking you know what they want, acting on it, and then making them angrier! That’s why it’s best to definitely make sure you’re on the same page first. Thanks for your thoughts and the visit!

  8. Ohh!! had i known that my name points to my domain then i would have used my keyword as my name 😀 haha many do that 😀
    Yes i know , we have a love hate relation ship with the clients, wait….(i dont have clients) but yes i meet evil people everyday 🙂 if you see my services page , “everything is free”

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