4 Principles for Dealing with Difficult Clients
No matter what your business model, everyone has to deal with clients or customers at some point. Inevitably, you’ll encounter some who are more difficult than others, and if you’re not careful, those clients can end up taking the bulk of your time and energy. Fortunately, there are a few excellent principles you can employ which will make dealing with those clients far easier, and those principles apply across all industry sectors.
1. Make your client feel heard
Many times, a frustrated client knows that you can’t magically solve their problem. What they want is to know that you hear and understand that it is a problem, and that you agree that they have a legitimate issue. That means using active listening, not interrupting, and then repeating or recapping what they’ve said to ensure that you’ve understood it correctly. Once you’ve identified the problem, using empathetic language (‘that would be very frustrating, I understand”) which establishes that you are on the client’s side.
2. Focus on the solution
Now you can move to the next stage of the interaction, whereby you seek to resolve the problem. Give them a timeline by which you can have a solution to them, or follow up the next day with an update if it’s something that requires more investigation.
3. Understand your role
Empathy aside, there are some problems which are not yours to solve. Just because your client tells you it’s your job to sell their product, or give them a platform to fame, that doesn’t make it true. Be clear about what you are offering and what they are buying, and don’t be tempted into making promises that you cannot deliver. Professional service providers (accountants, lawyers, financial planners) have to be especially clear that they are giving advice and counsel to their clients, but not telling them what to do or leading them down a path to a ‘sure thing’.
4. Walk away if you need to
Sometimes, we can get so caught up in trying to solve a client’s problems that we lose sight of whether it’s still reasonable to do so. If one client is taking up so much of your time and energy that you can’t continue to provide other clients with excellent service, consider whether or not you want to keep that person as a client at all. Likewise, if their attitude is abusive and upsetting your staff, have a think about whether the cost of losing the client is greater than the cost of potentially losing that staff member and having to recruit and re-train a new person. If you’ve employed the other principles above and someone is still difficult, it is probably time to draw a line in the sand and walk away from the interaction. With luck, their departure will leave you the room and the motivation to go and get a better client to fill the gap.
What do you think?
Have you worked with difficult clients in the past? We’d love to hear how you effectively managed the situation. Comment below to share your experience.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: inc.com, Forbes, Entrepreneur.