Wondering how to deal with difficult clients? Step one is to take a pause. Then do this.
Figuring out how to deal with difficult clients is one of the most perplexing issues for almost any business. There is no single right way to approach the issue, although there are most definitely some wrong ways. No matter how difficult a client is, you never want to end up on social media, as many big-name companies have over the past several years.
For that matter, there isn’t even one definition of what makes a client difficult. Anyone who’s worked in the service industry can tell you about clients they’ve dreaded working with who don’t even register with their coworkers. And although there are, without a doubt, some undeniably difficult clients, the issues are seldom as simple as they seem.
Still, learning how to deal with difficult clients is an essential business skill. Because no matter how great your client base is, you will eventually run up against someone that rubs you the wrong way, for any number of reasons.
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How to deal with difficult clients in an effective way
There are a lot of reasons you might decide that a client is difficult. But it’s rarely a clean line that delineates a “good” client from a “bad” client. In fact, “difficult” could be something as simple as your perception of them. Or it could be a specific problem, like a failure to pay invoices.
The first step in determining how to deal with difficult clients is taking a pause. What, precisely, is the problem? Are they doing something that negatively impacts your business? Or is it something that just annoys you? Try to take an objective look at the situation.
Some cleaning business owners might consider a client difficult if they ask for a discount in exchange for signing a long-term contract. In reality, that is something you can talk about and negotiate on. Approach that request from a different angle, and you might find that it could help your client with a reduction in expenses and help you, as well, with a reliable income stream.
Let’s take that to the next level. Suppose this client refuses to sign a contract unless you offer a discount that cuts too much into your profit margin. You have three options here: 1) Tell them to find another cleaner. 2) Concede and do the work reluctantly, even though you aren’t making a profit. 3) Explain to them why you charge the rates you do, and find out if it’s strictly a money issue they are worried about.
You are the only one who can decide what the right answer is, but only one of these gives you the possibility of creating a mutually beneficial contract. Option three gives you several additional ways you can work with this “difficult” client. If it is, in fact, a money issue, you can always work around that. Maybe you use a less expensive product or schedule them less frequently. Think about offering a referral discount.
What if it’s not money, though. Perhaps your “difficult” client is pointing out a problem area in your business. That can be tough to accept, but it can also be an excellent opportunity to learn. In fact, a client that is willing to offer you critical feedback is a valuable asset to your business. Many unhappy clients will walk away, and you’ll never know why you’re losing business. It’s the rare person who will take the time to talk to you and explain why they aren’t satisfied with your work.
These are just a couple of examples of how to deal with difficult clients. The idea here isn’t to go over every possibility, but to think about ways we can refocus conversations and explore removing labels of “difficult” and look for solutions that help everyone.
Learning how to deal with difficult clients also means that you will run into situations where you have to navigate tricky situations. When this happens, there are some things you should avoid. This can be especially true when dealing with someone in person or on the phone, when you don’t have time to consider how you will respond.
Don’t react in anger. That will only make things worse. In fact, there is almost no “difficult client” situation that gets better through angry reactions. Stay calm. Take deep breaths. You can often diffuse unpleasant interactions simply by keeping your cool.
Don’t ignore the problem. Big or small, a problem rarely goes away on its own. When you address and try to correct an issue, you’re setting the tone for everything that comes next. But ignoring a problem gives it time and space to fester and grow into an issue that’s a lot more challenging to fix.
Don’t shift the blame. When something goes wrong, and your client is unhappy, they don’t care whose fault the issue is. They want it fixed. Yes, technically, it may be Mr. Janitor who didn’t mop the floors last night, but ultimately, as the business owner, the responsibility to hire the right people and train them correctly is yours.
Don’t worry about the money. Sometimes, dealing with a difficult client or resolving a complicated issue means you have to cut into your bottom line. Within reason, losing a few dollars to gain a happy client is money well spent. A good reputation is the kind of marketing that you can’t buy.
Don’t be afraid to say goodbye. Even with all these angles, there are some situations where a client is difficult beyond any reasonable point, and it will be up to you to end the relationship. Clients who mistreat or demean your employees, even after you’ve talked to them, won’t do anything to help your business. Clients who continually undervalue your work will eat away at your profits. Hopefully, you won’t have many clients like this. But if you do, one of the best things you can do is to let them go.
Figuring out how to deal with difficult clients can be trying, but it can also be a chance to reflect on what we hope to be, as business owners, and as people.
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