How to Work With Difficult and Demanding Clients

Estimated reading time: 7 mins

The difficult client: short replies, heavy sights and crossed arms – you know exactly when they’re angry and frustrated. Such signs also show that they are losing interest in anything that you have to say.

Your shot at keeping their business might be fading fast as such difficult and demanding clients do not give much breathing space to you.

Most of the times, these demanding clients are not expressing their frustration with you. Instead, their emotions are closely tied with psychological stimuli and external situations. What you should do is put your strong communication skills to work, read the situations cleverly and use the following psychological tips to get you out of a pickle with a difficult client.

Master the Art of Reflective Listening

Whenever you are upset, do you feel better when someone starts by saying, “I understand”? Chances are that like me, you also find such broad statements to be accomplishing nothing. Just put yourself in the following situation:

Client: “I feel frustrated because our budget is limited and you are not giving us any discount.”

You: “I understand, but…”

The moment you say that, you should know the conversation is not going to end well.

Instead, you should practice reflective listening. In this approach, you understand what the other person is saying by interpreting their words and body language. Respond by reflecting their exact feelings and thoughts you heard back to the client.

Client: “I feel frustrated because our budget is limited and you are not giving us any discount.”

You: “So, what I’m hearing is that our prices are a barrier for your business. I am not offering any discount that meets your needs and your budget is tight. Is that correct?”

Move on to the next point if you have adequately understood your client’s sentiments. If you don’t, just simply say, “Tell me more for me to better understand the situation.” Whatever you do, never promise that you will fix the situation unless you are sure you will be able to do that. Your main goal is to make your customer feel heard and valued.

Make Use of After Heuristic

After Heuristic is a kind of mental shortcut that helps you make quick and efficient decisions based on the feelings you have toward a situation, place or person. The idea is because we all make judgements and decisions based on our experiences and worldviews. It is what makes us biased.

When faced with such situations, any objective facts carry not much weight for us. We tend to run the situation or decision through our own intuition and develop opinions of our own, based the things we already know.

So if your client keeps asking you, “What’s the catch?” and is delaying the entire onboarding process with endless due diligence and rescheduling, it might not be that helpful to say something like, “You have already made a year’s subscription. Can we move forward with the next steps?”

It might be that your client was trapped in a yearlong contract unknowingly by a vendor who never delivered on the promises. Because of that bad experience, your client is now viewing you through the same lens.

What you should do is ask questions to better understand the root causes of their apprehension. The questions listed below can help relax your sceptical client and also yield insights into why s/he is unwilling to move forward:

  • “I’d like to understand why you are being sceptical. Tell me more?”
  • “How can I help you relieve your fears?”
  • “What can I do to make you feel comfortable to move forward?”

These questions will help redirect their mind from thinking of you as someone untrustworthy to what they need to do in order to move forward.

Adopt a Beginner’s Mind

The beginner’s mind, also known as the Zen Mind, is a strategy in which you approach every situation as if you are doing it for the first time. Adopting this way of thinking means that you will enter each conversation with a customer with the “don’t know” mind-set, keeping you away from prejudging them or their situation.

Having the Zen Mind also stops you from living with “shoulds.” These can be all the nagging thoughts that say things like:

  • The client should have been smart enough to know they will not have any budgets until next quarter.
  • The client should have assumed that I would be available for consultations only once a week.
  • The client should have read my email about contract expiration.

Having too many “shoulds” mean that your mind is on the defensive, jeopardising the productivity of the entire conversation before it begins.

Letting go of sounding like an expert means that you give your client the benefit of the doubt, as you are not an expert in that particular client and their situation. Do not prejudge your customer’s frustration and forget about what they should have done. View each conversation as if it is a new puzzle to be solved.

Say Goodbye to Fear

Many of our reactions of failure have their roots in the fear of negative outcomes. We commonly want to control situations out of plain fear. Therefore, when the client is being difficult, we fear challenging them as it might risk the entire relationship. When a client starts complaining about the timeline and/or pricing structure, we get afraid of losing them because we might not be able to fix the situation.

The first thing that you need to do is let go of the notion that you have to fix anything. When faced with a difficult customer, your job is to listen, understand the concerns, and then look at the next steps instead of trying to immediately produce some kind of magic solution. Instead of apologising, say, “It is unfortunate that XYZ happened. I am fully aware how this is affecting your business, and I really appreciate your patience in this matter.”

Chunk Your Problems

Chunking is when you take a big problem and break it down into several smaller, manageable portions. It is a strategy used by practitioners of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). It is easier to tackle these small portions, making us more willing to deal the issue at hand. Many people use this technique to organise their daily tasks. This is very helpful in managing challenging problems.

Is there a trend in things that annoy most of your clients? During your next meeting with the client, ask them to help you break down all tasks needed for you to get things moving. Simply viewing each task chunked will make it much easier for your customers to digest things that are left to do.

Anger is Not Uncommon

At all times, try to remain calm and actively listen to your clients, repeating back what you hear them say. Once they have finished, thank them politely for communicating their frustrations, explaining how you will get back to them with a possible solution. This will allow your customer to have the time to cool off, as you speak to your manager about the possible next steps.

You might want to consider using the Recalibration Theory in which anger is thought of as an evolutionary way for us to bargain. We press our lips together, flare our nostrils in and furrow our brows to drive our opponent to place a much higher value on things that we have to offer. When you are faced with an angry customer, instead of trying to justify your position, try to understand that they are merely trying to control the situation as they feel they are being undervalued.

You should take your client’s frustrations seriously but never personally. Remain calm and actively listen to all that your customer has to say. Once you confirm that you understand their frustration, you should thank them for communicating it and tell them that you will get back to them.

Stay Calm and Move On

Remember that conflicts are part of any business. How you react under the fire that might influence the future of your relationship with a client.

The old adage, “The customer is always right” still rings very true. There is far more to lose if you go down to your irate client’s level. Treating someone with disrespect can reflect very negatively on you as well as your company. Reputation management has to be the key for you at all times. If you will respond with anger and hostility, you will have to expect the same from others in return.

Follow these tips when faced with a conflict:

  • Maintain a professional and calm tone while staying assertive at the same time.
  • Never write or say anything that has the potential of being used against you.
  • Resolve disputes over the phone or in person. Emails are just too cold and impersonal to hash out disagreements.
  • In all cases, refrain from finger pointing or name calling.

Always keep a professional tone and remember that you are representing your brand. Let us know in the comments section if you disagree with anything or if you have suggestions of your own. Do check our blog post on how you can make your clients happy.

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