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Difficult Clients

Manage Difficult Clients before Coming to Blows

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Although “customers are always right,” they can be demanding. That puts added responsibility on entrepreneurs to anticipate client needs and head off problems before they occur.

Kevin Garber who co-founded the Twitter app ManageFlitter and account management consultant Warwick Brown gave their perspectives on calming customers.

“ManageFlitter is an extensive product with a very diverse customer base,” Garber said. Many elements need to be in place to ensure ManageFlitter works well for customers. This includes the app itself, the user’s Twitter account, plus ManageFlitter talking to the Twitter application programming interface properly.”

No matter how well planned, problems will arise.

“There are many links in the chain, which means sometimes things can and do go wrong,” Garber said. “Understandably, users just want things to work. When they don’t, some users are less understanding and polite than others.

“I always emphasize to the ManageFlitter support team to sidestep any emotional reaction they may have to a difficult support ticket,” he said. “Instead, focus their energy on resolving the issue for the user.”

Rather than setbacks, Garber sees client complaints as opportunities to excel.

“Research shows that frustrated customers if managed well, will have a more positive view of a product after an issue than they did before an issue,” he said. “There has been a handful of occasions over the years where we needed to communicate to a user that constructive honest feedback is fine, but over-the-top rudeness isn’t.

“Maintaining healthy boundaries with your users via support is not mutually exclusive with good customer service,” Garber said. “Importantly, often these ‘difficult’ customers are the users most passionate about your product and your biggest champions. Handling all customers — including difficult ones — effectively is a good investment.”

Brown said providing good professional advice does not require being a client’s friend.

“There’s a difference between friendly and friends,” he said. “Of course, be likable, but base your client relationships on credibility, authority, and trust. Show your expertise, create value and have an opinion. That’s how you become a trusted advisor.”

As they establish client relationships, business owners should keep several factors in mind.

“The one question I always ask my main point of contact that never fails is, ‘What does your boss expect you to deliver?’” Brown said. “That starts the conversation about wider business objectives. You’ll quickly learn how to keep customers happy.

“Ask your point of contacts how they’re measured at the end of the year,” he said. “That’s a great place to start to learn about your clients and their business objectives.”

From there, Brown advocates keeping the conversation moving, citing the Dalai Lama: “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”

From his account manager tips, Brown offered 45 questions to ask clients to get to know them.

Difficult Clients

“Dig a little deeper to find out what really matters to your clients,” he said. “Research from Bain Insights shares what business-to-business buyers really value. You might be surprised.

“Why did you choose us’ is a great question,” Brown said. “Sometimes I’ll ask it every year just to remind my client — and myself — and make sure we’re still aligned.”

Deflecting attention can be an effective way to deal with difficult clients. Occasionally, answering a question with a question is a good idea.

“Don’t be too hasty with answers,” Brown said. “Questions may seem simple but are often loaded. If you don’t have all the information you need, keep probing. Be careful not to appear evasive. If you’re put on the spot, say you’ll investigate and get back to them ASAP.

“Keep a list of questions you commonly hear and keep adding to it so you are focused,” he said. “It’s very easy to spend a lot of time talking, but saying nothing.”

Video conferencing is increasingly common. This entails different strategies, particularly when conferring with a difficult client.

“Video or face to face, you need a game plan before your meeting,” Brown said. “Understand what you both want to achieve from the meeting, how you’ll open and close, what’s the best outcome, next steps, and ask yourself is there some unexpected value you can bring?

“You can’t always meet in person, so video is a great way to build rapport,” he said. “Even if your client prefers a phone call, there’s nothing to stop you from turning your video camera on and showing your face.”

Also, remember those not involved in the conversation.

“Get a meeting room if you’re in the office,” Brown said. “I hate it when people have video conference calls at their desk with clients and give you evil looks because you’re making noise.”

Keeping a positive mindset is key when dealing with a difficult client. Brown has tips for remaining positive while providing social media support.

“Whenever I meet demanding clients, I always think to myself they may be experiencing things both professionally and personally that I know nothing about,” he said. “It gives you perspective and helps you stay positive, even when the going gets tough.

“Know you add value,” Brown said. “Believe you make an impact. Understand you transform your clients’ business. When you have confidence in you, it’s easy to stay positive when dealing with difficult clients.”

Sometimes sharing the problem can look like facing defeat. Yet, there are benefits of letting your manager know you are having difficulties with a client.

“You ought to keep your manager apprised of what’s going on,” Brown said. “The manager might have helpful hints, not the least of which is, ‘Oh yeah, I remember when that happened to me. Here’s what I did.’

“A problem shared is a problem solved,” he said. “Let your manager know you’re having difficulties with your client. The manager might have good advice. Plus, if things escalate, you don’t want managers caught off guard. You want to know they have your back.”

All things must pass. Entrepreneurs need plans to gracefully part ways with clients.

“Losing clients hurts, but it’s the circle of life,” Brown said. “Do your best to keep them. When it’s the end of the road, let them know there are no hard feelings. Make their exit a smooth one, and stay in touch. You never know. They might come knocking again.”

Brown gave more in-depth tips about managing difficult clients in a Facebook Live conversation.

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Jim Katzaman
Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services. A writer by trade, he graduated from Lebanon Valley College, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He enlisted in the Air Force and served for 25 years in public affairs – better known in the civilian world as public relations. He also earned an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science in Public Affairs. Since retiring, he has been a consultant and in the federal General Service as a public affairs specialist. He also acquired life and health insurance licenses, which resulted in his present affiliation with Largo Financial Services. In addition to expertise in financial affairs, he gathers the majority of his story content from Twitter chats. This has led him to publish about a wide range of topics such as social media, marketing, sexual harassment, workplace trends, productivity and financial management. Medium has named him a top writer in social media.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks for the great recap Jim. You continue to impress me with your talents. Difficult clients are a fact of life, but with some preparation, patience (and a thick skin) – they can be turned around. I’m happy to answer any questions anyone may have. Warwick

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