March 25, 2019

How To Feel Less Rattled With a Difficult Client

The Problem with Difficult Clients

Working  closely with people is rewarding and typically a pleasant experience however it isn’t always easy.  Difficult clients exist and you will experience them in your studio. Lovely clients will have off days and can surprise you with a problematic interactions or demands.    Imagine that your 9am client has a big feeling about being charged for last week’s late cancel and there is a heated conversation. This could potentially rattle you off course for the rest of the day- keeping you distracted from your other clients. 

Not having a plan or a system to handle these situations can leave you feeling unprepared and surprised.  This will make it much harder to remain calm and professional when these difficult situations arise.

Follow these tips and before long you’ll be taking difficult clients (and situations) in stride.

3 Phases to Managing Difficult Clients

1. Be Prepared:

One of the best ways to avoid difficult situations is prepare ahead of time.  Make sure your studio policies are clear and fair. Make them very available to clients!

Ways to be prepared

  • Have clients initial or sign a studio policy sheet during their intake process.
  • Create an easy to read sign that is easily view-able on your studio wall.
  • Include your most “heated” policies (i.e. cancellation, refund, extension) in your email signature so they go out in every email communication you send.
  • Post your policies on your website.  You can include a “why” for the policies if you want.

Set Boundaries. 

(BONUS: Some boundaries can be clearly stated in your policies).  Figure out what you will and won’t do and write these boundaries down.  Will you answer emails and phone calls all day long? Will you run over session time if you client arrives late? Remain firm and consistent so clients aren’t confused, and you can avoid misunderstandings. 

Get your team on the same page!

  • Make sure staff is VERY clear on studio policies and why they are in place.
  • Staff should know what what they have the authority to do; work out a situation, make a decision, bend a policy, etc?.
  • Staff should know who to pass the problem too if they are not allowed or equipped to see the situation through.  i.e. studio manager, owner, bookkeeper.
  •  Staff should be able to tell the client who they are handing the problem over to so there is clear follow through.

2. When It Happens:

Stay calm. Becoming emotional or defensive will only escalate the situation.  Take a deep breath and ground yourself. If the interaction isn’t live (i.e if it is an email or voicemail) take some time to prepare yourself so you can approach the interaction as neutral as possible.  

Active listening.  Many difficult situations can diminish when a client feels listened to and heard. Make eye contact, don’t interrupt, make small reaffirming noises or physical cues (“mm-hmm…” “I see”, head nod).  Reflect back what heard them say to make sure you understood it correctly. Ask questions to clarify (don’t make assumptions).

More Tips & Tricks:

  • Frame things in a positive light.  
  • Own it if you were in the wrong.
  • Respect yourself and them.
  • Apologize if necessary.
  • Focus on solutions rather than blame.  

3. when it's over

Do what you say you’ll do.  If you said you’d ask a manager, make sure to ask the manager and that the client is responded to.  If you won’t charge them for the class, make sure they are not charged.

If it was an accident/oversight on your part brainstorm ways to make sure this doesn’t happen again.  You can communicate with the client what you plan to do.

If it was a misunderstanding figure out how you can be clearer so other clients aren’t confused in the future.

Check in:  If it feels appropriate check in with the client in a few days and see if they are happy with the resolution.

When you feel prepared and have a plan in place you’ll find that these difficult clients are much easier to handle and the situations are must easier to let go of when your next client walks through the door.  

About the author 

Laurie Johnson

Laurie is a social media, marketing and innovation strategist with an exceptional track record of getting things done, while making it look easy. At her studio, she manages all marketing, web content, communications, and program development.

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