Tough Customers: Dealing with Difficult Clients as a Small Business Owner

In the past, we’ve discussed strategies on dealing with less-than-satisfactory employees and strengthening your company culture. Unfortunately, not everyone we work with is under our control (though certainly more than at a corporate level!). Even if only once in a blue moon, we are likely to deal with customers who are not peachy. But since small business owners rely heavily on individual clients perhaps more heavily than corporate entities, we thought we’d mention a few strategies for dealing with those tough customers. 

  1. Listen. This sounds so simple, but is so important. So much of the time, an unhappy client just wants to voice their concerns and know they’ve been heard. Sometimes their reactions might be unreasonable and over the top, but telling them that isn’t likely going to make things better. Instead, patiently listening builds trust and empathy (our next strategy point).
  2. Express Empathy. While listening is the first step, be sure you are making eye contact and relax your body language. Most importantly, repeat back a summarized version of the customer’s complaints to them.  They are more likely to relax and feel calmer once understood. Just be sure you truly are listening and you actually do understand their concerns.
  3. Show emotional control. Do everything you can to stay calm. If the client is irate and loud, be the opposite with a calm, slow, soothing voice. This should have an equally calming effect on the upset individual, or at least get them to tone down their anxiety. If it helps, imagine having an audience around or being on TV where people deal with bad customers in a “punked” fashion to do your best, picture-perfect work.
  4. The customer is always right. Okay, obviously we know this isn’t true. But what it likely means is that when you agree with the customer and it takes an unexpected turn for them, they are more likely to calm down and in some cases, even start to defend the person they were complaining about or to. So if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly, tell them you agree, and present solutions on how to help make it right.
  5. Keep it about work. If a client has a complaint about a service or product, keep it about that. It’s easy to get our feelings hurt, but chances are, it’s nothing personal. As the business professional, it’s best to stick with facts; don’t allow personal emotions to get involved.

Of course we always wish and hope for the customers who pay on time, are courteous, friendly, and genuine. But every once in a while, we’re bound to come across a challenging person or situation. It’s best to diffuse this as efficiently as possible, and come out with our business name unscathed. Remember that negative word of mouth travels far more quickly than positive!

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