HOW TO: Deal with difficult clients

Categories Freelancing101, How To

There is nothing worse than an unhappy customer.  Sometimes a situation arises, where a difficult client confronts you and is not at all happy.  Haven’t we all been here once before in our professional lives?  What is the best way to deal with this situation?  Dealing with angry and/or difficult clients can definitely be a challenge, but if you handle the situation well you will at the very least retain the work, and at the very best create a better working relationship between yourself and that client, and indeed potentially create more opportunity to work with them for yourself or your firm.

Act promptly

There is no point in beating around the bush.  If you hear of a problem or you realise that a situation might have created a problem for a difficult client then make sure you deal with matters in a prompt fashion.  Don’t wait for the problem to magically disappear as chances are it won’t.

The customer is always right

Keeping this (perhaps clichéd) statement at the back of your mind at all times is always a good idea.  Even if you may not think they are right, they are paying for your service, and have to be dealt with in a professional and accommodating manner.  Put yourself in their shoes.  And put yourself in the right mind set to deal with them.  Don’t start off on the offensive…

Listening is key

Listen to what your client is telling you.  The most important step in dealing with a difficult client is to make sure that they know that you are on their side.  One key ingredient is to listen actively to what they are saying.  Let them tell you why they are upset, or what their grievance may be.  Some great ways to open a conversation are neutral statements like “Please let me know what happened,” or “I understand you were not entirely happy with X, let’s go over what happened.”  This type of language is important because it creates a relationship between you and the client where they understand that you want to get to the root of what has been bothering them.  Face to face is a great way to get this done, but if the conversation has to be held over the telephone make sure that nothing is going to interrupt the conversation.  Give the client your full attention and it will pay off.

Repeat their concerns

One of the best ways to reiterate to your client that you have been listening is to repeat their concerns. Once they have gone through what the problem might have been, repeat it and make sure that you understand exactly what they are saying.  This ensures the client that you have indeed understood, and also allows them to clarify if maybe they weren’t clear in their initial complaint/discussion.


Always remember that we are all human!  Mistakes in business are inevitable, and the only thing that counts is how you deal with them and learn from them!  Learning how to apologise is one of the key ingredients to a happy life (business or otherwise).  Don’t harp on and apologise more than necessary (this can annoy clients), but repeat that you understand how the situation created a problem and that you are very sorry for this.

Make it up to them

This is perhaps the key to moving forward.  Listening and clarifying what the problem is sets the scene, an apology lets the customer know you care, but most important is how you move forward with the relationship.  Have a solid plan to rectify any mistakes, and then make sure that you implement them.

Don’t let it happen again

Repeat business is important, especially in today’s market.  Once you’ve presented a good and acceptable plan to move forward make sure that the client is on board and that any employees understands what might have caused an issue in the first place.  Learn from any mistakes and move forward.  Difficult clients can be brilliant mirrors to let you know what you can improve on, as perhaps less vocal clients might be thinking what the difficult clients are willing to say!

Know when to stand your ground

Lastly, I think it is important to know when to defend yours business, and yourself if a client is being unnecessarily difficult.  Weigh up how much their business means to you.  If they represent a substantial chunk of your business you may need to decide whether or not you can live with their complaints/request/demands.  If they make up a less substantial amount of your business you may need to decide if dealing with them takes away from more important business.

Look at every difficult moment as an opportunity to improve what you do.  Sometimes difficult clients give us perspective to revaluate how we are going about certain things in business and that is invaluable.

Author bio: Claire writes for Printer Inks, an online ink cartridge specialist. Claire works in marketing and enjoys blogging in her spare time.

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Catalin is the founder of Mostash - a social marketing boutique - and he's always happy to share his passion for graphic design & social media.