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At one point in your work at home career you will work with a client or customer that’ll make you want to pull your hair out. While some clients can be demanding or rude, others can be difficult simply because they’re not good at communicating what they want or need. You can make life in your freelance, service business, or even work-at-home jobs go much easier if you develop ways to work with (or let go of) difficult clients.
We asked these work at home experts to share how they deal with difficult clients.
I advise looking the situation from the clients point of view before becoming too frustrated. What are their goals, deadlines, struggles, possible struggles and see if this can help you re-frame their difficult behaviour. If this doesn’t work, take a deep breathe, take a walk and calm down before responding if the situation allows. Offer a solution that benefits both parties. If things cannot be resolved or the customers is unwilling to resolve things, this is the time to part ways, respectfully.
Tip 1: Stay calm. Model the behavior you want them to exhibit. By staying calm you don’t join them at their level – you elevate them to yours. Bonus is – when you are calm – you make fewer mistakes and you don’t allow them to bully you into doing something you shouldn’t be doing.
Tip 2: Redirect to rational problem solving. If they are trying to bully, you into doing something you shouldn’t be doing – don’t roll over for them. Just keep saying – I’m sorry – we can’t do it that way – but perhaps we can solve your problem in another way. Your goal is to get them to engage in calm rational problem solving. You want to help them, but they need to allow you to help them before you can. Your mantra – I’m sorry – but perhaps we can solve this problem in a different way.
Tip 3: If they refuse to work collaboratively and rationally – allow them to choose to leave you. Don’t get upset about this. You can help – if they let you. If they don’t – that’s on them. Often, when they try someplace else and also can’t get their problem solved – they come back as your biggest fan.
When someone starts to complain in a rude way, apologize first and then express an understanding of why they are upset, often just repeating back what you were just told. If someone was particularly rude to you, hearing what they just said will often lead to a feeling of shame and a softening of the encounter.
When someone explodes on you and then pause to give you a chance to speak, just look at them like you’re still listening. They will often offer another two or three statements, losing a little steam each time. Once they’re actually done, you can start solving their problem.
If someone asks for a refund, don’t get confrontational. Hear the customer out and start by offering alternatives to a refund. If you genuinely can’t offer a refund, apologia and explain why a refund is not possible.
What communication tips do you have to keep things on track?
Most important, you must always acknowledge the client’s concern. And you must also pay attention to the personal as well as professional needs of the client. Also, pay special attention to how and what you communicate to them.
When and how to cut ties if they become too difficult to work with? If possible, try to calculate the costs of retaining the relationship. What you have to determine is the costs in time and aggravation versus the benefits of staying in the relationship
We love our clients and have a rigorous screening process to make sure each new relationship is a good fit, but nevertheless, every so often we run into a difficult client. We manage difficult clients in the following ways.
1. Set clear expectations- It’s human nature to want to please your client, but you can’t do so at the expense of profitability or even worse, your mental health. Set clear expectations up front so the client knows exactly what work you will be delivering, at what cost, on what timeline. It might not feel great to inform a client you can’t get something done when they want it, but it will save conflict down the line and ultimately form a better relationship.
2. Put everything in writing – Even if you decide things on a call, send a quick follow up email directly afterwards to memorialize what you’ve just discussed. One thing that difficult clients can do is insist they’ve told you something or that you agreed to do something that you did not. Being able to reference conversations in writing helps nip arguments in the bud.
3. Involve management- Each of our Account Directors know that our President has their back. No one is expected to take abuse from a client. If necessary, they can have the President jump on a call with a client. This serves several purposes. The client feels as though their concerns are being heard and escalated. The President can either echo what the Account Director has said, hitting home the point, or work out a compromise with the client as he has the authority to amend contracts. We use this as a last resort, but it can be effective.
If a client becomes too difficult to work with, cut ties politely and professionally. If you have a contract in place, ensure that you provide notice as the contract specifies. We very rarely go this route, but when it is necessary, we politely tell them that we do not feel equipped to handle their business needs, and that we would be happy to transition all of their
files to whichever agency they choose to work with next.
Note from Leslie
It’s been my experience that while some clients have difficult temperaments, most challenges when working for someone else comes with miscommunication or different expectations. More often than not, the client had one vision in mind, but I’d interpreted another. One of the biggest things you can do to keep clients happy is to develop a system of questions to make sure you’re on the same page with your client. These questions will evolve over time as new lessons are learned about gaining clarity on a project. So here is my list of tips on working with clients:
- Anticipate potential issues and develop an interview or questionnaire that will address some of these issues upfront. For example, many clients can’t explain what they want, although they know what they don’t want. So you might have a question in which you ask the client to share examples of what they like and don’t like.
- Have a written contract and project outline that both parties agree to. That way if there are question, you can refer to it to remind the client to what he’d signed.
- Have a system to keep the client informed of the progress during the project. This way you can catch any issues before you’ve gotten to much done.
- Always be calm and professional, regardless of how the client treats you. Bad comments about your business can hurt your reputation. So even if a client is out of bounds, stay calm and professional.
- Refer the client to someone else. You are not obligated to keep clients who are rude or take advantage of you. If you decide to quit a client, remain calm and professional, and simply state that you’re no longer able to work with them, but you have a list of referrals you’d be happy to share.