Difficult clients are part of business life. Ask anyone who manages their own business and they will have a few choice stories to tell about disgruntled clients who have made a scene, demanded the impossible or generally made their lives difficult in some way. The good news is that there are ways of dealing with these people, which if employed will diffuse the situation somewhat.
Be Careful What You Say
When speaking to difficult clients, you must always be mindful of your choice of words. It is so easy to rub them up the wrong way by saying things that may sound harsh, abrasive or worst of all, dismissive. I know this is not always easy when you have a client shouting a list of complaints about you, but it will make you seem more reasonable and stop the situation from getting too out of hand.
“‘In My Limited Experience”
This simple phrase, when tagged on the end of a sentence can help to diffuse the most heated arguments with clients. For example, you might be telling a client that it just isn’t possible to paint the Sistine Chapel in one day, and they’ll be arguing that they know someone who did it and won’t back down no matter what you say. If you add in my limited experience to the end of the sentence, it gives them a way to back down without actually backing down by making it seem like you are the one who is wrong. Try it – it really works a treat.
Make Them Be Specific
When you’re dealing with general moans such as “my dog is never ready to come home when you say” or “Your writing is always filled with spelling mistakes” ask your client to get specific with dates, times and projects when that was the case. Chances are they will realise they were exaggerating and back off, or at the very least you can ask them what they would like you to do to make things better, which again should diffuse the situation somewhat.
Acknowledge without Agreeing
If your client has a grievance, it’s best not to agree with them, as this can add fuel to the fire and turn it into a raging inferno. Of course, not acknowledging their grievance can have a similar effect, which means you need to walk the line between listening to their complaints and turning them towards a solution without a hint of agreement.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Don’t tell your client that their report will be ready at four if you can’t guarantee that it will. Although your client may be difficult, they are not necessarily always in the wrong and the last thing you want to do is give them any real cause to have an issue with you or your company by showing poor time management or something similar.
Apart from the above, the best thing you can do is always be kind and patient, even when you don’t want to. Don’t be a pushover, but don’t be tempted to fight fire with fire either – that rarely works out well.
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