Australia: Crisis Over: How To Deal With Difficult Or Emotional Clients

Last Updated: 9 September 2008
Article by Amy Harbrow

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.

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:

Assertive/Demanding Clients:

Listen to the client and reuse the same phrases to build trust and show understanding (without repeating what they say word-for-word);

  • 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 courteous;
  • Remain friendly but specific and direct.

Angry Clients:

  • Use the same approach as for assertive/demanding clients;
  • 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 followed.

Passive Clients
Although easy to manage they will leave without complaining, leaving the problem unresolved. This type of client needs to be identified quickly:

  • Ask open and probing questions to build trust: this will allow them to talk freely;
  • Listen for clues that they are not telling you something;
  • Consistently ask them if there is "anything else I can help you with?" – they will eventually say "yes".

Talkative Clients
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 appropriate;
  • Use pauses in the conversation to redirect the client back to business;
  • Rephrase and get the client to acknowledge your understanding;
  • 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 situations.

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 ask me.

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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