Although it’s not known how many business owners have to deal with difficult clients on a regular basis, you can be sure you’re going to have to handle at least one whilst managing your business. It’s one of those things that ‘comes with the territory’, unfortunately.
Reasons for clients turning difficult can include everything from communication issues, delays with payment or obstacles preventing you from getting on with the project – you know, that client that promises you all the information you need but never delivers. Then complains when you don’t meet their deadlines.
And then there are always the quarrelsome ones that seem to find fault with everything you do.
Whilst I always recommend screening clients to anticipate any potential problems further down the line (checking references and online reputation is a great start), even the best client can have an off day and make a complaint.
Although having to deal with a complaint can cause considerable stress, if you handle the situation well it can raise your brand profile and reputation – particularly when using social media. It can also help a client see when they might be being a little unreasonable and readjust their expectations.
Here are my top tips for dealing with difficult clients as a business owner.
Show appreciation to your client and thank them for bringing the problem to your attention.
Even when there isn’t a problem.
They’ve taken time and effort to communicate with you, albeit negatively. This is actually a good sign. They could have taken their business elsewhere already.
So, don’t be defensive.
Yeah, I know. It’s hard not to be defensive when someone is being angry at you, especially around other people. In an already exaggerated situation, you don’t necessarily need to agree with what they’re saying – but you do need to hear them out.
Acknowledge what’s important to your client, and apologise. Once.
Chances are they are being unfair but they valued something you weren’t able to deliver on. This could be down to mismanaged expectations, but finding that missing value makes all the difference in appeasing your client and retaining their custom.
By apologising you’re not admitting that you are wrong and to blame here.
But you are showing empathy and understanding with your client. Something we all value as individuals and business owners, right?
Show how you’re going to solve the problem and improve in future.
Help your client understand what went wrong.
Answer their questions and provide them with additional information. If you’re not sure why something went wrong – promise to find out. And follow through on that promise.
Once you’re both clear on what caused the problem – you can make amends, or tell them how you’ll prevent that issue happening again in the future. Sometimes, this can be as simple as choosing a new means of communication or changing timespans and deadlines to allow for delays.
How do I deal with a passive-aggressive review on social media?
It’s all well and good dealing with an in-person complaint or angry email, but what happens when it’s made very public on social media?
It is important that you deal with it.
According to a study by Dimensional Research, 86% of consumers change their buying intentions according to negative reviews.
Whilst the same principles of handling the complaint applies with social media and online reviews, speed suddenly becomes the key factor. However, you need to ensure you understand the problem before you respond – failing to do so can put you on the wrong foot and your response can easily reflect that.
Apologise and try to take the issue offline through private message or email.
If you have contact information for the client try picking up the phone – it’s the last thing they’ll expect but the personal touch can help appease an inflammatory situation.
If you can’t take the problem offline, it’s important to show a detailed response that truly addresses the issue and proves you care about your clients. You should do this by:
- empathising with their complaint by validating their concern
- taking accountability – even if you’re not at fault
- informing them how you’re going to remedy the situation
- asking them to provide more information if you can’t resolve things immediately
There are a few things you should never do though.
Don’t vent your frustration online – save it for a friend or family member. Getting into online arguments never ends well.
Don’t lower yourself to their level – name calling and insults are just bad, for you and your business. So take the high road and just agree to disagree if necessary.
Don’t fail to respond – sometimes it’s a good idea to draft a response and have someone check it over before you hit send. Just make sure you do send it.
There’s little doubt that responding to complaints is essential for a successful business, but you do need to take time and thought with your response – whether online or via email (it is a little trickier when you’re put on the spot in-person).
Hopefully, you’ve found my tips useful and you’ll have a better idea of how to handle a complaint in the future