Wouldn’t the lives of everybody working in many organisations be so much easier without clients who regularly question decisions, challenge expertise or quibble over the invoice?!
Of course, it’s those same clients who ultimately pay the wages and recruit new clients for us by recommending us to their family, friends or colleagues, so continued interaction is required – there’s no option for ignoring the problem if the organisation is to remain a happy and profitable place. And whilst in any service industry there will inevitably be occasional differences in opinion as to what constitutes a great customer experience or service, being belittled or shouted at by aggressive clients has no place in modern business life.
Understanding the source of aggression is key
Very few people are looking to pick a fight for no reason – if your client is difficult it is almost certainly because he or she has other things on their mind.
Of course, none of these things are your fault.
But they are probably not theirs either.
We’re all human, and in stressful situations our emotions will always get the best of us.
Common sources of anger and irritation for clients include:
- Perceived or actual errors
- Outsourcing of services
- Perhaps pricing hasn’t been explained correctly or the client may feel guilty because of the limited choices available due to their own financial situation
- Being ignored or patronised
- Feeling intimidated by members of the team using words and terminology they don’t understand, being too embarrassed to question or ask for clarification
- Losing the ability to choose
- Shock following bad news
- Confusion due to a lack of clear, unambiguous information
- Unrealistic expectations
- Wanting someone to blame
- Too much information/too little information
- Being kept waiting too long
And so it goes on!
Once you’ve accepted that it’s not you they are angry with, rather the situation, it should be easier to take a step back, park the raw emotions and begin to solve the issue.
You can manage an angry client very effectively when you follow a tried and tested process:
Listen closely while the client describes what happened from their viewpoint; this demonstrates your interest in their feelings and gives you more time to consider how you’ll respond. Never assume you know the problem. Ask questions to figure out what’s truly bothering them so you can solve the real issue.
2. Meet in person
Sometimes your first discussion with angry clients is over the phone. It’s often best to delay this conversation in order to give the client time to calm down, so ask to meet in your office later. Your goal is a calm, constructive meeting.
3. Start with an apology
Even if you can be sure you and the organisation are not at fault, saying you are sorry about how the situation has made your client feel is still a good place to start.
4. Don’t argue
Don’t get caught up in “he said, she said” accusations. There is no point arguing about what has happened in the past, focus on the future and on finding a solution that is acceptable to the client and the organisation.
5. Be open to the client’s ideas
Sometimes clients aren’t happy with any resolutions you offer. If you think you can manage the outcome, consider asking clients for possible solutions.
6. Be willing to help
Simply by showing that you’re interested in solving the problem, you can calm most clients down immediately.
7. Resolve problems quickly
Don’t procrastinate, especially when there’s bad news to relay. Waiting only makes the problem snowball.
8. Thank clients
All feedback is a gift! Let clients know that you appreciate them pointing out an issue which you can now fix.
9. Follow up and follow through
Call clients a month later. Let them know what changes you’ve made to ensure the problem doesn’t happen again.
Finally, remember that a useful cognitive technique in dealing with difficult people and situations is to apply enabling thoughts to the situation – there is a solution to every problem. In doing so, you will be able to approach things more positively and take back ownership with the knowledge that responsibility for a resolution rests with you, rather than with the ‘difficult’ person.