It’s often said that there’s no such thing as a difficult client, only a difficult situation. Everyone we deal with, every day, is juggling their own emotions, deadlines and unique personal circumstances; not to mention those we’re just about holding in ourselves! This patchwork of interconnecting factors can cause even the most level headed person to lose it occasionally, and sometimes you just happen to be present when that happens.
Unless you’re very lucky, you probably have to occasionally manage difficult situations, defuse fraught conversations and placate clients.
In this article, I want to focus on communicating effectively with demanding clients by suggesting a number of practical ways to regain control over the conversation:
- Don’t let the client take control – manage their expectations and meet their needs.
- Patiently answer each and every one of their questions.
- Don’t ignore their phone calls.
- Encourage them to schedule a time to discuss the issue so you can be prepared rather than answering questions there and then.
Be assertive, but never aggressive
In actual fact, handling demanding clients effectively comes down to the need for you to be gently assertive. Being assertive means knowing where the fine line is between assertion and aggression, and staying on the right side of it. It means having a strong sense of yourself and standing up for yourself, even in the most challenging situations.
The good news is that assertiveness can be learned and developed, using some simple techniques:
- Use ‘I’ statements. “I want you to …”, “I need you to …” and so on.
- Show empathy. Acknowledge that you recognise how the client views the situation, and then clearly state your proposed actions to deliver the solution to their needs.
- Escalation. This type of assertiveness is necessary when your first attempts are not successful, as you get more and more firm as time goes on. “Mrs Smith, if you remember I did explain the benefits of … a moment ago.”
- Ask for more time. Sometimes, you just need to put off saying anything. You might be too emotional to deal with the client right now, or you might really not know exactly what you want to do. Be honest and tell him/her that you need a few minutes to compose your thoughts, “Mrs Smith, your request has caught me off guard. I’ll call you back within the hour with my response.”
- Change your verbs. Use ‘won’t’ instead of can’t’. Use ‘want’ instead of ‘need’. Use ‘choose to’ instead of ‘have to’. Use ‘could’ instead of ‘should’.
In the end, both parties often want the same thing, and a demanding client is only demanding from your perspective.
Resetting your filter on what constitutes ‘demanding’ behaviour will help you stay calmer and enable you to deal more effectively with clients who you may previously have seen as difficult.
Because demanding behaviour only has an impact when you react to it.