Have you ever walked away from an exchange with a client and thought that they were totally unreasonable and unrealistic? Did the conversation end on a negative note? Did it have a knock on effect on your relationship and your ability to draw continued revenue from it?
If so, you might find the following tips on how to deal with a difficult client useful, both for maintaining your client relationships, but also in protecting your bottom line.
Before we start, it is paramount to realise that there are no difficult clients; only clients who do not feel fully heard and fully understood. It is important to remember that every person’s model of the world is valid – especially for them! The client’s perception is their reality – they see things through their own unique set of filters. An angry client often feels, consciously or unconsciously that their values have been violated. This goes to the very heart of who they are. Also, anger is expressed through emotion, so beware of suppressing them. If they are angry, let them vent!
It goes without saying that prevention is always better than a cure, but if the situation has progressed in a negative manner, follow the simple steps below to help resolve the situation.
1. Start from an observer’s position. Describe the problem as the difference between your positions. Share with the client what you want to achieve. Invite them to join you as a partner in resolving the situation.
2. Explore both parties story. Listen to understand their perspective on what happened. Ask open questions to learn and explore their reasons, not to pick holes. Ask them their view of the situation and what has happened.
3. Acknowledge feelings. You need to acknowledge both yours and their feelings behind the argument and accusations, before moving on to problem solving. Please note, this is not the same as agreeing with them.
4. Paraphrase. Do this to demonstrate that you are listening to them and that you understand what they are saying.
5. Share your viewpoint. It is really important for the client to understand what has helped shape your actions. Highlight your past experiences, your intentions and your feelings.
6. Reframe. This is an easy way to take the heat out of a conversation and to bring it back on track. Reframe the following:
- From truth to perception
- From blame to contribution
- From accusations to feelings
- From judgement to understanding
7. Problem Solving. Be creative. Invent options that will satisfy the most important concerns of both parties. Look to standards or precedent to what should happen and discuss how you will improve communication channels to prevent a similar misunderstanding recurring.
8. Follow Up. And finally, make sure that you follow up with your client to ensure they’re satisfied. This will help you rebuild any broken relationships and receive repeat business from your client in the future.
It is worth remembering that relationships that always go one way rarely last. This will not only potentially hurt your reputation, but also your income.