High Quality Clients

Every once in awhile, you land clients that are really, truly difficult to please. However, these cranky customers are the minority. Most people, given the chance, want to work together towards a solution when things go wrong on a project. You truly have to bring out the best in all your customers.

But what are the first steps when a relationship has gone south and your customer isn’t happy?

Here are a few tips to bring out the best in your customers:

Don’t Get Defensive

Getting defensive is the worst thing you can do when tensions rise with a client. Blaming them – even if you are right – will only damage the relationship and prevent things from moving forward.

Instead of pointing out the other person’s part in the problem, take a moment to collect yourself and remember that you can preserve your professionalism and find a solution by staying calm.

Listen

Listening is a strategy even the billionaire Richard Branson endorses whole-hardheartedly. Be authentic with your listening. Try to understand their point of view and to feel their feelings from their perspective. By tuning into the other person’s inherent validity, you can short-circuit the tendency to build an iron-clad case in your own favor, and learn what is really bothering the client.

Also, people need to vent sometimes. If their ire is with you, it can be difficult to truly listen, but as long as their behavior is not abusive and they are simply airing grievances, it can be extremely valuable to let them blow off their own steam.

Empathize and Validate

This part is verbal. Once the client has let loose with what is bothering them, it is extremely important that you verbalize how much you understand their point of view.

Do not yet approach the solution or share your own point of view. This is the time to help the client feel safe and respected by saying something that fits your client’s communication style. Anything ranging from, “Wow, I totally get how you feel,” to, “That must be extremely frustrating,” can help a client reach a state of calmness.

Ask Questions and Clarify

This is the time to make sure you understand. Even when you really listen with the intention of understanding the other person’s perspective, you can still overlay your own meaning onto their words. It’s an unsettling situation and you may still be unconsciously coming from the defensive.

Start with something like, “Let me make sure I understand,” or “Let me know if I have this right.” Repeat back to them what their concerns are. You may be surprised by having some assumptions corrected by the client.

High Quality Clients by Moving Forward

Since time is money, it’s always good to move forward once the situation has calmed itself. By this time, ideally both you and your client are sufficiently clear-headed that you can start building a solution. If the client is calm and you feel that you are on the same side, it is useful to reassure the client that the problem will be solved. Next, get their help in crafting the approach.

If not, it is important that you do not make any commitments. Instead ask for time to handle the problem. Is the customer more irate than they were at the beginning of the conversation? If so, it’s important that you end the conversation gracefully and take time to regroup.

Remember, conflict is a chance to grow. It is important that these techniques be used with honesty and with authenticity. Don’t approach your client from a manipulative point of view. Not only will the other person sense that you are “humoring” him or her, but you will also miss out on the opportunity to have your perspective expanded. It will destroy your relationship and not allow them to share the point of view of another person.

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William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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