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How to Deal with Challenging Clients

This entry was posted on November 13, 2018 by Brent W Peterson


No matter what type of business you are in, you’re bound to work with a variety of clients who have their own unique goals and interpersonal styles. Most people just want to complete their business transactions with maximum courtesy and minimal fuss. But even if most of your clients are nothing but pleasant and gracious, it is best to be prepared for the few who are grumpy, perpetually dissatisfied, and maybe even inclined to leave you angry voicemails at 3 AM.

If you find yourself in one of these tricky situations with a troublesome client, know that you can rely on the wisdom of those who have dealt with troublesome clients before you and lived to tell about it. Here are some ways to stand your ground and keep your cool when a business relationship is giving you fits.

Remain Calm

No matter how loud, disrespectful, or unfair your client might be, do whatever possible not to mirror their problematic behavior. This will only elevate the tension level between you and could give your client reasons to complain to your superiors or to other potential clients (“he started it!” isn’t a very good defense). If you feel your face getting red or your heart rate starting to rise, take a moment to relax and breathe deeply. Your relationship with your client (as well as your professional reputation) will benefit from a measured approach. You can vent your true thoughts to friends, family, or your pillow when the time is right!

Empathy is Key

Even if you disagree with your client’s assessment of a situation or their means of expressing it, try your best to see where they’re coming from. Also make sure your efforts to empathize are reflected in the ways you communicate with your client. Make sure you don’t put words in your client’s mouth or respond to them without truly understanding what their thoughts and feelings are. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements to avoid sounding accusational.

Be Patient

Calmness and empathy are both important components to patience, but it deserves a mention all its own. Making decisions too quickly can doom your relationship with a client, even outside of face-to-face interactions. Although some people may expect you to reply to their emails within five minutes, there’s no need to respond so quickly, especially in precarious situations. It’s perfectly acceptable -- and even advisable -- to sit with an email for a few hours (or overnight) before returning to and hitting “Send” a little while later or the next day. Refraining from rash communication with your troublesome client can be essential to managing the relationship and avoid saying things you’ll wish you could take back.

Keeps Your Ears Open to Advice

You’re already seeking advice by reading this article -- good for you! But we won’t be offended if you look to other trusted sources for guidance on how to deal with your client.

All jokes about venting to family, friends, and pillows aside, the people closest to you could be able to provide a lot of support in getting you through a contentious client relationship smoothly. Perhaps they’ve found themselves in similar situations, and can relay stories about their successful (or unsuccessful) efforts at keeping the peace. History can teach us quite a bit about what to do (or not to do) when relationships with clients begin to sour.

Know When to Pull the Plug

Nobody likes to do it, and it’s certainly not easy, so terminate the relationship with your client only as a last resort. But if things have gotten to the point of no return, or if your client has truly crossed the line (especially in a way that jeopardizes your health or safety), sometimes the best option for everyone is to move on.

When you decide to withdraw from the relationship once and for all, the same principles of communication outlined above still apply. Even if you have no interest in working with the client again in the future (and there are certainly cases where that sentiment is more than justified), you want to avoid burning bridges in could scare off other clients or play into the hands of your competitors. Sometimes taking the high road isn’t as emotionally satisfying as going low, but once the negative emotions have waned, you’ll be glad you escaped with no permanent damage.

It’s never fun to deal with a difficult client relationship, but it’s best to be prepared so that you can feel confident in any situation. For those who conduct business online, Wagento provides personalized support in keeping your clients happy when things get tough, so you never have to worry about those 3 AM phone calls again.