The Finesse of Dealing With Difficult Clients

05 Feb 2018


We all dread those emails.

The ones where you can almost hear the client yelling at you through the computer screen.

When those emails arrive, it’s hard not to immediately jump on the defensive and start to fight back.

However, addressing those situations in a professional and polite way is imperative to maintaining good client relations.

But how do you do that?!?

Try to see things from another perspective

Sure, it may sound cliché, but there is a lot to be said for having a bit of empathy in these situations.

Often, a client is upset about something that could be easily remedied, if you just take the time to try to understand exactly what the issue is. Tweet this

It’s also important to remember that there are sometimes communication breakdowns when relying on emails. – Things frequently come across differently than how they were meant.

So, pick up that phone and make the call. Chances are that a quick conversation can iron out any issues, and your project can be back on track in no time.

Image by Azmi Talib from Pixabay

But what if they start to yell?

Unfortunately, this happens more often that we’d like.

You call a client, intending to address their concerns, and they immediately start to get volatile.

Once again, your defense mechanisms kick in, and you find yourself fighting the urge to get caught up in their anger.

Doing that will only escalate the issue, though, so take a deep breath and follow these tips:

  • Listen

    Many problems arise when people feel like they are not being listened to or heard. Resist the urge to immediately talk back, and just listen to the problem from their point of view. This does not mean that you have to sit there and let them yell at you, though. If their tone and language become borderline abusive, it is important to respectfully remind them that you want to hear what they are saying and try to find a solution, but you cannot do so unless they stop yelling.
  • Acknowledge & Empathize

    Let them know that you realize they are upset and that you really do care and want to resolve the issue. Simply stating “I understand,” and then re-iterating what you believe to be the problem will show them that you are listening and trying to see where they are coming from.
  • Stay Calm

    Do not engage in petty arguments or finger pointing. Keep a low voice and maintain your composure. Do not fuel the fire—just state the facts and focus on finding a solution. Keep in mind that it is not personal, and do not react emotionally.
  • Accept Responsibility

    Nobody is perfect. Be willing to admit to any wrongdoing on your part and offer a way to make it right.
  • Propose a Solution

    Try to come up with a way to fix the issue that all parties can be happy with. But don’t make compromises you are not okay with just to make the customer happy.
  • Follow Up

    Once you are done with your call and have come to some kind of resolution, be sure to send a follow-up email. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page and can alleviate any other possible issues in the future.
Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

What if they refuse to take your call?

Sometimes a client gets so upset that they refuse to speak with you on the phone.

They send you an angry email, but your calls go straight to their voicemail.

This is when good written communication comes into play.

Again, it is important that you don’t get caught up in their anger and respond in an emotional way.

Before you even hit the “reply” button, carefully read through their email again, and try to understand EXACTLY what the cause of their frustration is.

Once you have re-read their email (and taken a few deep breaths), get ready to draft a reply using these steps:

  • Acknowledge

    Tell them that you see that they are upset, and then explain your understanding of the problem, based on what they told you in their email. As tempting as it may be to just ignore their snide remarks, failing to address the main issue will just make it worse.
  • Propose a Solution

    Are they upset because they don’t like something you have written? Offer to go over the things they did not like, so you can understand what they were unhappy with, and re-write those sections. Are they panicking because a deadline is approaching? Re-assure them that you know when the deadline is and that you have a plan to complete the work in plenty of time to meet that deadline. Whatever the issue may be, you almost always can find a way to fix it.
  • Stick to the Facts

    Occasionally a client will get angry because you did not complete something. What they are failing to admit, though, is that the item was not completed because THEY did not provide you the information needed to complete it. If this is the case, politely remind them that while you would be happy to complete it for them, you still need “xyz” before you can do so. If you previously provided them with a list of deliverables that they promised to send you, this is a good time to send that list again and let them know that once you receive the outstanding items, their project can be completed.
  • Keep a Polite Tone

    This can be tricky to do in an email. Too often your words can be construed as rude, even when you did not intend them to come across that way at all. Be sure to read, and re-read what you write, to ensure that nothing you have written could be taken the wrong way.
  • Suggest a Phone Call

    The quickest and best way to resolve any issue is to get on the phone and talk it out. At the end of your email response, it’s always a good idea to suggest that you set up a time to talk, so that you can be sure that everyone is on the same page. The client may still refuse to talk to you, but it is always worth a try.

Know when to walk away

You’ve emailed, you’ve called, and they’re still upset.

You’ve proposed solutions, but they are not responsive to your efforts.

They seem set on being angry, and it’s clear that nothing that you do is going to change that.

It happens.

Occasionally there are those clients who will never be happy, no matter what you do.

In those circumstances it is okay to recognize that they are this type of client, and be okay with walking away.

It’s not worth compromising yourself (or your sanity) to bend over backwards, trying to make them happy.

In the end, you can only do so much. And that’s okay.

Jennifer Rizzo 
Jennifer Rizzo is a Denver based writer with a background in Healthcare, International Tour Management, Genealogical Research, and a passion for travel and languages. She studied Spanish at the University of Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico and also lived and studied in Ancona, Italy. After spending nearly a decade working in the health care field, Jennifer has a well-rounded knowledge of hospital functionality, medical terminology, and disease processes. She has extended work experience with government medical benefits as well as Social Security law, which has allowed her to fine-tune her ability to sort through large amounts of medical records, research, and data, and turn that information into well written reports and case briefs. Since joining The Writers for Hire, Jennifer has written on vast array of topics and has done many in-depth ancestry research and family tree projects. She has worked as Project Manager for various client websites and RFPs, as well as other projects. She enjoys working closely with clients, and loves any opportunity that allows her to indulge her creative side.

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What strategies have you found to be helpful when dealing with difficult clients?