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6 must-know tips for dealing with difficult clients

To help you keep your customer service in tip-top form, we’ve put together a list of handy pointers on how to deal with demanding clients.

Always stay calm
It’s all too easy to let an angry client pass their bad vibes onto you. Before you know it, you’re furiously typing an aggressive reply to their unreasonable demands, muttering colourful language under your breath.

This is where it’s vitally important to pause, take some deep breaths and don’t respond in anger. If the client has called you, take everything on-board and offer to call them back with a solution. If the situation has arisen over email, don’t reply immediately while the temperature is still high.

Keep calm and focus on solving the situation in-hand. If it’s rattled you, consider going for a short walk or make yourself a cup of tea. After an hour or so, reassess the landscape and begin to craft a sensible, reasoned response.

Do your homework
Many disagreements between clients and suppliers come about due to miscommunication or mismatched expectations.

If you get a disgruntled customer questioning the service you’ve provided, make sure you go back and check exactly what was agreed before you do anything else. It might be that you’ve misread part of the brief, or misunderstood the project detail. Even if you haven’t missed anything, it will be worth revisiting all communications in order to respond appropriately.

If you do find that the error is your fault, apologise and provide a solution. Everyone makes mistakes, and the critical thing is to move on from them quickly and efficiently.

Establish boundaries early on
Unless you’re a fan of late night project updates and weekend emailing marathons, it’s essential to set boundaries early on in any client relationship.

Of course, most customers will adhere to the ‘working day’ etiquette of not requesting information or contact out of hours. But if you do encounter an overzealous client who is making unreasonable demands on your time, then politely but firmly remind them of your boundaries.

At first, it might feel a little bit awkward to state that you are only available during certain times or that you will not respond to out of hours emails. But, unless you stick to that strategy, you could find ruthless clients taking advantage.

Change your perspective
When we feel backed into a corner during a confrontation, it can be easy to shut down and blindly hold on to our initial judgements. But you’ll often find a more pleasing resolution can be found if you look from the perspective of the other person.

Say, for example, you’re submitting a written report for your client, and they push back. Perhaps they don’t like the writing style you’ve used. It’s natural to think ‘how dare you question my work? I’m a professional!’. But flip the perspective to their point of view. Maybe your client knows that their CEO prefers a particular style of grammar. Or, maybe they know that the tweaks they’ve suggested will help the report get that funding the business needs.

Just by flicking to that other perspective you’ve quickly realised there is probably a valid reason for the changes requested.

Keep asking questions
In the quest to come across as experts in our field, we’re all sometimes guilty of not asking a question in case we come across is inexperienced. But this way of thinking can stunt your potential on a project, and turn a client relationship sour if they start to get tricky.

For example, you may have received a brief that has a couple of holes in it. Although you’re not sure about the answers, you choose to crack on rather than come across as an amateur. But as the project reaches completion, the client is unhappy because you made some assumptions on the brief. A simple sign-off suddenly turns messy. Asking those questions at the start could have averted those issues.

Use planning to diffuse difficulties
Once you’re in the midst of a serious disagreement with a client, it can be hard to know what to do next. Should you drop them and move on? Give in to their, possibly unreasonable, demands? The answer, as with most things in business, is to make a plan.

This might sound like an obvious solution, but it’s so often overlooked by those struggling with a troublesome customer. The fine art of sitting down and writing down a plan of action will clarify your desired outcomes, and give you the time to look at all the roadmaps through your predicament.

It’s never going to easy when you come up against a difficult client. Let’s face it; no one joins the world of freelancing and contracting to fall out with customers and become experts in conflict resolution. But, by keeping the above tips in mind, you’ll be able to avoid your client relationships turning nasty – no matter how unreasonable your customer might become.

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