HOW TO DEAL WITH AN ANGRY CLIENT
Someone sent me an interview question and asked my how I thought I’d answer it. The question was ‘How would you deal with an angry client?’, and I’m going to share my thoughts here.
On every account I’ve worked on, amazing projects and bad, amazing teams and not so amazing ones, there have been angry clients. I found they come in two types; the person who is always angry, and the person who is angry on a specific occasion. This is how I’d handle them both.
For the ‘anger is a way of life’ client
No matter what you do you can’t seem to get on the right side of this person. Nothing is good enough, your prices are too high, you’re not working long enough hours, the solution isn’t what they want. It seems that from 8am right up to the point where you leave the office this person is angry.
Take a second and think about why. What are the kind of things that get me in a bad mood and keep me there?
In my opinion, the ‘always on’ angry client tends to have some or all of the following problems:
- In at the deep end: This person doesn’t really understand but can’t admit it without losing face
- Out of control: This person feels like something is being forced upon her or him (the solution, the team, anything)
- Stress somewhere else: Sometimes this person is not angry because of anything you have done, but is feeling pressure from somewhere else in life
The way to deal with this person is generally the same no matter which problems they have. The trick is to make them feel and look good. Try some of these things:
- Be honest. Always be honest. Tell the truth. Don’t ‘spin’ things.
- Consider the language you use and whether speaking in simpler terms, or likening concepts to real world experiences, will help your client to feel that they’re on the same journey.
- Manage their expectations. This kind of person doesn’t like surprises, so make sure that you’re talking often enough.
- Make their life easier. Take on things that help out in this person’s day to day.
- Reduce the number of people the person deals with. Let one person build a great rapport and be the main contact for the project. An angry client often reacts much more favourably to more personal and supportive relationships.
For the ‘the fan has been hit’ client
For this client something has happened, and they’re mad. They’re not happy at all. Whatever you did it didn’t go down well and now the whole world knows it. There is clearly an origin to this anger and your approach needs to think about that.
- Find out what happened: Get in a room with this person, or videoconference if you’re located far away, and be open to hearing what needs to be said. Be calm, be attentive, and understand what the gripe is.
- Be honest: If you made a mistake just say it there and then. People are good judges of character and they can tell when you are being evasive. It is also a lot harder to be angry with someone who’s mission in life is to be calm and honest about difficult topics. My contract manager will probably have a few words on how to word such honesty, but I have never once been bitten by the ‘honesty is the best policy’ rule.
- Apologise: If you made a mistake, apologise for it. Don’t over-do it.
- Fix it: Say what you can do to resolve the situation or, if you’re not sure, ask the person how they would like to see it resolved and take that away. Start to bring your client on the same journey with you and show that you care about putting it right.
- Prevent it: Examine what happened to cause the situation and understand what you can do differently in future to prevent it. These are the kind of actions that set you apart and will mend any tears in the relationship. Sometimes even a small early warning alarm to avoid surprises will suffice.
Overall, if you demonstrate honesty and integrity you will grow amazing client relationships. Thinking about how you’ll behave and how you’ll react in difficult situations is important. After all, a ‘client’ is another person the same as you, but they’re on the hook for what you’re doing
May 13, 2013 // Observations, Project Management, Tips //
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