Whether you’re an entrepreneur, salesperson, or a customer representative, you’ve probably had at least one encounter with an an difficult client.
Angry clients can yell, threaten, or just coolly insinuate that he will take his business elsewhere. Our gut reaction is to win him back, licking his shoes like a puppy. This is the worst thing you can do. While you want his business, it’s imperative that you act at least as an equal to keep his respect—especially since the craziest clients will use a position of power to make more and more unreasonable demands. Here are some tips.
First of all, see any conflict as a negotiation. He wants something, so do you. Immediately set a cooperative tone: ‘We can both help each other resolve this situation.’ Find a common goal, and remind your client of the objective that first led to the working relationship in the first place. Reiterate, for example, his business goal and why your company is still best equipped to help him achieve long-term success—and that this setback is but a bump in the road.
You can also humanize the relationship, by expressing your feelings in a congenial and a sympathetic tone. For example, you can say, ‘It’s been quite a difficult project, and my team has put a lot of heart into it. We are all quite frustrated with this setback, as are you. Given all the time and effort we have put into this, we feel we all have a personal stake in its success.’ DO NOT reduce your credibility by constantly apologizing. You need to be seen as a formidable partner, but one that is equally invested in this working relationship and empowered to help him achieve his goal.
Focus on details and concrete problems, rather than huge issues. For example, if your client is (frankly) a jerk, you gain nothing by telling him, ‘You are obstinate and uncooperative.’ If his own wife can’t change him, neither can you! But you can say something like, ‘While we cannot proceed with Plan A, it is crucial that we look at the other alternatives. There is more than one way to achieve this goal.’ Then, give the concrete action you need from your client: ‘We have 3 alternative studies we want to show you. Can we meet by Wednesday next week to discuss these options?’
Brush up on your negotiation skills. Remember that your job is not to make the client happy, but to make your company successful. It does not do justice to your company to present yourself as a spineless, slobbering yes-man. Be fair, be easy to talk to, but most of all, be professional and competent.
Photo from art.com