Emotional clients: what makes dealing with them so difficult
and why do people shy away from these interactions? The answer
is simple: it is being unprepared for the unpredictability of
what might happen. The good news is, by making a few conscious
decisions before these interactions you can feel more
comfortable -and confident- in your day to day dealings with
Clients can be emotional for a variety of reasons: they
could have received bad service; believe a mistake has been
made (either perceived or genuine); be experiencing personal
issues; or simply be having a bad day. These experiences may
alter their natural behaviour, so they could be perceived as
aggressive, demanding, rude, crying, passive or talkative -to
name a few.
Dealing with situations like this can also alter our own
natural behaviour, causing us to feel angry, intimidated,
defensive, stressed, or making us generally unwilling to
resolve the situation as soon as possible.
Firstly, we need to control our own emotions. We can do this
by being aware of our breathing – maintain a deep,
slow and steady rhythm – this will reduce our stress
levels immediately. Regardless of whether these interactions
are in person or over the telephone, our posture will affect
our emotions; we should remain upright and open.
We also must take control of our speech and be aware of how
we are being perceived by our clients. There are different
elements to speech; we must be aware of our tone of voice, the
pace in which we are talking, how we are projecting our voice,
our volume and how we are articulating ourselves. Ensuring our
speech remains calm and neutral is an important aspect of
handling an emotional or difficult client.
Secondly, we need to be flexible and assess the situation we
find ourselves in. We must recognize that before a
client's emotions can dissipate, we need to acknowledge
and accept them. When someone else's emotions are
directed at you it is normal to react by either turning away or
matching it. Neither tactic will work when you want to calm the
client and deal with the issue. What does work is accepting the
client's right to be emotional. By making this first
concession, you have in fact won the first round.
The key to handling an emotional client is using empathy to
build rapport. Using empathic phrases like: "I'm
sorry to hear that"; "That must have been very
upsetting"; "I can hear you are frustrated" will
help to achieve this. Seeing the client's view point
(even if you don't agree with it), showing empathy, and
dealing with the situation in a manner that will defuse it will
enable you to control the situation.
Listed below are some tips on proactively dealing with four
different types of client behaviour:
Listen to the client and reuse the same phrases to build
trust and show understanding (without repeating what they say
Match some of their assertiveness, but not all;
Keep the non business conversation to a minimum: they are
only interested in a business-related conversation;
Use closed questions to control the conversation and keep
interaction to a minimum;
Remain friendly but specific and direct.
Use the same approach as for assertive/demanding
Effective listening is essential with angry clients,
perceived inattentiveness will amplify the situation;
Empathise to build rapport;
End the call with a proposed action plan and ensure it is
Although easy to manage they will leave without complaining,
leaving the problem unresolved. This type of client needs to be
Ask open and probing questions to build trust: this will
allow them to talk freely;
Listen for clues that they are not telling you
Consistently ask them if there is "anything else I
can help you with?" – they will eventually say
These people are enjoyable to listen to and easy to talk with,
but they can waste a lot of your time:
Control the conversations with closed questions where
Use pauses in the conversation to redirect the client
back to business;
Rephrase and get the client to acknowledge your
Provide minimum responses to unrelated topics;
Remain friendly and courteous.
Although dealing with clients will always be unpredictable,
understanding some of these basic concepts can build your
confidence and help you to take control of difficult
When faced with a difficult or emotional client, harnessing
our own emotions while remaining flexible and empathetic
towards the client will allow them to vent their concerns,
allow you to understand them, and provide an opportunity to
resolve the situation. Sounds like a win: win situation if you
The content of this article is intended to provide a
general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should
be sought about your specific circumstances.
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