The Best Way to Deal with Difficult or Mean Clients


By Fausto Mendez

    Business is business – until it gets personal. Actually, when big money and reputations are on the line, it’s almost always personal. It’s really easy for your clients to step on your toes (or the other way around), but no matter who’s at fault, you need to be ready to deal with moody, rude or emotionally unstable customers in a positive and calm way that moves you closer to your business goals without sacrificing top-tier service.

    Law firms are a perfect example of a business atmosphere that is bursting with emotions. When you’re serving a client that’s on the verge of losing his house, business, freedom or a ton of cash, it’s silly not to expect some frustration to surface in ugly ways – not just from the client but perhaps from yourself too. That’s why the Harvard Business Review‘s Mark Goulston is sharing the lessons he’s learned as a lawyer who’s served some of the rudest and downright meanest clients in his industry. His entire article is worth a read if you have the time, but we break down his advice to some actionable basics below. His tips can apply to any industry, so take notes. 

+ Start out by preparing yourself for the worst. Don’t expect your clients to respect you. This attitude prevents clients from surprising you with outbursts or insults.

+ If your career requires you to deliver really bad news to clients, it’s best to ask your clients how to approach them with bad news. When the time comes, bring up your previous conversation about how to deliver bad news, recap the client’s advice on delivering bad news, and then deliver the bad news in the way the client recommended.

+ In the event that insults come your way, detach yourself from the insults. It’s much easier said than done, especially when you’re caught off guard, but that’s why your start by preparing for the worst. It’s also important to keep in mind that the client doesn’t really know you as a whole person, so insults, in this case, are just a symptom of frustration. 

+ When shit finally goes down, the client may insult you, yell and maybe even threaten to fire you. Your ego won’t want to take it, and you may be tempted to yell back. Don’t. Just take a deep breath. Look them in the eyes, and pause. Though it’s not acceptable behavior, now would be a good time to remember that circumstances can drive anyone to behave this way.

+ When the insults finally come your way, ask a question that forces the client to examine and repeat what he or she just said, “do you really believe what you just said?” Another great question: “What was that all about?” Chances are that they expect you to fight back, so they won’t know how to respond.

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