They are an inevitable part of every business — those one or two challenging customers who make every interaction problematic. Learn how to deal with difficult clients to get a head start in critical client relationship management that generates customer satisfaction and maintains a positive work atmosphere for employees.
General tips for positive client management
Demanding customers may require responses targeted to the specific objectionable behaviors, but there are some tips that apply to them all. Using these strategies may prevent loud meltdowns, and they definitely aid in preventing escalation of confrontations.
Try these customer management tips:
- Take deep breaths in a slow, steady rhythm.
- Pause before responding.
- Add a mental qualifier to inappropriate remarks. Change the perception of the harsh remarks with the mental addition of something like “from my personal experience” or “in my opinion.”
- Don’t take the comments personally. It’s hard to know the real source of the over-the-top reaction, so assume the person is dealing with professional or personal stress that is the real cause.
- Don’t “fight fire with fire.” Respond to heat with cool calm and choose your words carefully.
Pay attention to body language
Be sure that your nonverbal cues show a willingness to listen. Drop hands to the sides, creating a sense of openness. Lean slightly forward or tilt your head toward the speaker to show attention, and look at the speaker. Nod periodically to acknowledge the customer’s words. Spending a bit of time reading about nonverbal language and other management strategies may be a worthwhile investment.
Watch for changes in the customer’s body language. Seeing shoulders tensing, hands clenching, or arms crossing over the chest may indicate that the customer is becoming agitated, showing that it’s time to use some calming strategies or to change the direction of the discussion.
Acknowledge the concerns
When learning the best ways of coping with challenging clients, being able to respond empathetically and recognizing the other person’s position, are valuable skills. Acknowledging those concerns doesn’t imply agreeing with any accusations, but it shows a willingness to collaborate on a solution. A simple “I certainly understand why you are upset that your order wasn’t delivered on time” may be all it takes to turn an unpleasant argument into a productive conversation. Following up with an apology may seal the deal. Again, an apology doesn’t have to mean accepting blame. Try something like “I’m sorry that the order didn’t arrive when you expected it. Let’s see what we can do to make this right for you.”
How to deal with difficult clients on an on-going basis
Most of the time, the breakdown of the vendor-client relationship is the response to a specific situation. But sometimes there are clients who are perpetually unhappy. There are some tricks to easing communications with these folks.
Prepare for all meetings with these tough clients by scheduling a time to meet in the future, even if it’s only an hour in the future. This allows time for the client to calm down, since trying to talk through a rage isn’t conducive to solutions. Let the client see you write the appointment in a planner, which sends the message that it’s important enough to record.
Once the conversation begins, ask for very specific examples of what is bothering the client. Then, offer specific and measurable solutions. As the discussion continues, use visual reminders of the conversation — perhaps a whiteboard or large pad of paper. Record the complaints as they are mentioned, and then document the agreed upon solutions. If the client returns to rehash those issues, point to the entries to remind the customer that a solution has already been found.
During the discussion:
- Stick to facts. Go to the meeting with all of the relevant business management paperwork — contracts, project plans, emails — in hand, and refer to them as often as necessary. If the client disregards them, politely and firmly repeat the content.
- Find common ground. Use phrases like “I know we both agree that…” or “We both want a mutually beneficial solution.” Foster that atmosphere of collaboration to overcome the perceived need for confrontation.
- Take time out. If things begin to get heated, suggest a short break. Offer the other person coffee or another refreshment, or simply excuse yourself to the restroom. Avoid excuses like taking/making a phone call or anything else that might give the impression that the client is less than the primary focus of the moment.
Look at the challenge of coping with difficult customers in a positive way. When correctly handled, situations that seem irredeemable often become entryways to long-lasting customer-supplier associations. This is sure to create further opportunities to increase a client base through affirmative word-of-mouth advertising.