There is a true adage that says, “You can’t please everyone all the time.” As good as your services are and as helpful as you can be, there will always be someone who fusses.
There is also an adage that says the customer is always right, which isn’t true but does point to the fact that regardless of why or how a client complains or is difficult, you, as the business owner, need to be professional in your response. Your actions can hurt your business, so it’s important to handle difficult clients carefully.
Here are tips on how to deal with a difficult or complaining client in your home business:
Listen Carefully and Keep a Level Head
Clients aren’t always the best communicators so it’s crucial that you learn to listen carefully to what they’re saying in order to determine your best response. People have a tendency to pile on complaints, so your goal is to find the most important ones that actually relate to you and your business.
Clients can also be rude or mean when they express their displeasure. It’s easy to want to get angry and defend yourself, but it’s crucial that you keep calm.
Determine What’s Most Important to Your Client.
If a client has a list of complaints or demands, sort out the items that seem the most important. Many complaints or demands have a theme, whether that’s needing the project done on time or that it meets some standard. Try to identify the issue that is most concerning to your client.
Clarify Your Understanding of the Problem
Once you’ve let your client air his grievances or demands, recap what you’ve heard, with special emphasis on what you identified as the most important element. This ensures you understand the issue, as well lets the client know you’re trying to understand. It also gives you the opportunity to apologize or empathize. “I’m sorry the project didn’t go as you anticipated. I know that would be frustrating. Let me make sure I understand, Mr. Smith. You’re concerned that you didn’t have time to review XYZ before it was completed. It sounds like you’d like to be able to review the project while it's in progress, is that right?”
If you’re wrong, the client will better clarify his concerns. If you’re right, you have a starting point on which to work on the issue.
Does the Problem Really Involve You?
It’s not unusual for a client to complain about something that doesn’t involve you or your business. For instance, there may be clients asking for refunds on products that you don’t sell, or complain about the services you don’t offer. It’s easy to think these people are crazy for complaining to you, but it will only hurt your business to get angry at them.
Even if the problem doesn’t involve you, see if you might be able to help them. Perhaps you could guide them to the right place to lodge their complaint.
If the problem does involve you, you need to own it and work with the client to find a solution. This is a learning moment for you in your business and indicates an area you can potentially improve on. If the problem is that the client didn’t do their part or misunderstood what you offer, it can be a little more challenging to advocate for yourself without upsetting the client further. If you’re able to refer to the contract or other written materials that show their expectations weren’t part of the agreement, tactfully point that out.
Make it Right
If you made a mistake, you need to own it and fix it. However, sometimes the problem is related to a lack of clarity in the project. Asking detailed questions initially and getting feedback during the project, can help avoid this. But sometimes clients aren’t clear, and your only feedback is their complaint when the project doesn’t meet their expectations.
If the problem has to do with alternate visions for the project, apologize and ask the client questions that will clarify what he wants. While you can offer solutions, it is best to ask the client what he expects or needs so you can be sure to understand and help solve the complaint.
If the client was expecting something you didn’t promise, you can decide whether to go ahead and deliver it in order to save the client and the possibility of getting referrals. Or you can refer him back to the contract that highlights what they’d asked for and agreed to.
Letting a Client Go
While it’s important to hear out difficult and complaining clients, there’s no rule that says you have to keep working with them. Some clients may fire you, saving you the need to let them go. Other times it may be you who may want to terminate the relationship with the client. This doesn’t mean you can tell them off in a heated exchange. You still need to be professional and polite.
When possible, be honest too. “Mr. Smith, I can understand your need to have XYZ, however, we don’t provide that. I have a list of other businesses that might better suit your needs.”
Or if the client was difficult throughout the project and you don’t want to work with him anymore, you can say something like, “Mr. Smith, there seemed to be a struggle to conceptualize and understand your project, and perhaps we’re not the right company for your needs. Here are some referrals that you might find better suit what you’re looking for.”