Make Them Smile: 4 Key Principles to Handling Impossible Clients

Business.com / Customers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

No matter the industry, the solution to effectively dealing with difficult clients follows a similar pattern.

While clients and customers are arguably the most important factor in a business’s operation, they also have the potential to make things more difficult.

Like a fly in your soup, a single bad customer has the ability to ruin your entire day. It’s common enough that there are several sites and blogs dedicated to sharing customer horror stories.

Difficult clients aren’t exclusive to any single industry, either. Most familiarly, retail workers have to deal with upset customers who can’t find the exact product they are looking for or who are unhappy with a product they purchased.

The price is too high, the store layout is inconvenient, the credit card system is down; there is no end to the list of reasons a customer might be upset. Clients in the services industry, meanwhile, find their own problems.

While arguments about price are fairly universal across all industries, a designer may find that his client expects unlimited revisions and changes, demands rush orders, or simply expects the designer to read the client’s mind about what they want.

The medical industry can also get particularly sticky, as patients’ health are on the line, so healthcare workers have to be especially careful when handling difficult patients. In fact, according to PatientPop, doctors categorize as many as 15 percent of their clients as "difficult".

As frustrating as it might be, though, these clients must be dealt with in order to keep things running smoothly.

Of course, simply acquiescing to every single demand can lead to unnecessary stress, loss of revenue, and even more unreasonable demands in the future, so where is the balancing point? No matter the industry, the solution follows a similar pattern:

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1. Listen to the Client’s Complaint

Remember, if a client complains, it is not a personal attack on you. Even if the client is sarcastic or rude, keep your cool, and respond like the professional you are. Snarking back at them will only escalate the situation further, and neither you nor the customer will be happy in the end.

After all, Help Scout reported that nine out of every ten clients will still continue doing business with you as long as you can resolve the initial conflict.

Recognize that, while the client’s comments may be addressed to you, their frustrations are likely not with you as an individual. It will be that much easier for both of you to keep your emotions in check and resolve the issue quickly.

2. Respond Professionally

Remember, if a client complains, it is not a personal attack on you. Even if the client is sarcastic or rude, keep your cool, and respond like the professional you are. Snarking back at them will only escalate the situation further, and neither you nor the customer will be happy in the end.

Recognize that, while the client’s comments may be addressed to you, their frustrations are likely not with you as an individual. It will be that much easier for both of you to keep your emotions in check and resolve the issue quickly.

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3. Validate the Customer’s Feelings

It might seem overly simplistic, but just acknowledging the client’s feelings can do a surprising amount toward defusing the situation before it can truly become a problem. Once you understand the source of the customer’s upset, acknowledge it.

Phrases like, “I understand why you feel that way,” or “I can see why that would frustrate you” let the customer know that they’re being heard and that the two of you are on the same side. Rather than seeing you as a bar to them getting what they want, they instead can see you as an ally in finding a solution. Just make sure that it’s clear that you are being genuine and not mocking or sarcastic.

4. Present Solutions

According to ZenDesk, 24 percent of clients who pose a concern are primarily looking to see if a company will take action to resolve an issue. Keep the customer informed of the steps you are taking to remedy the situation.

Laying out a plan, offering solutions, and generally showing the customer that there is a clear path to a resolution can all make the process much simpler. Even if you aren’t able to solve the problem immediately, just the knowledge that you are doing everything you can to address the issue will do a lot to assuage the client’s frustrations.

Of course, no matter what you do, some clients will be implacable. There are people who simply want someone to yell at, and they’ve decided that an employee who isn’t allowed to talk back is an ideal target.

Depending on the industry and the business relationship, it may be necessary to simply refuse the work. It’s difficult to turn away potential income, but if the circumstances won’t work, then it may be the best solution. Remember, though, that even if you have to turn away a client, you should always keep the conversation respectful and professional.

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Whatever the customer’s reason, keep in mind that the way you respond their demands will have a strong impact on how both current and potential customers view your company. There are just as many websites dedicated to highlighting customer service disasters as there are showcasing customer meltdowns. Fortunately, a lot of situations with difficult clients can be handled early on by just paying the customer the attention they need.

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