Dealing with difficult clients is a reality for businesses across several industries. Even within the realm of IT, the human element is a pervasive and unavoidable presence, and will continue to be so until the point at which machines can completely take over all our activities.
Until then, it’s wise to have an effective strategy in place for dealing with difficult clients. On the whole, it’s important to ensure your team doesn’t meet any aggression with their own. Cool, rational heads will enable them to make smart decisions in the heat of the moment.
These are some of the guidelines you should put in place when customer-facing staff encounter difficult clients:
1. Direct, respectful communication
Clear communication is the key to resolving a conflict, and it’s important that even when a client becomes difficult or aggressive, your team members are able to convey the right messages to them. In many scenarios, clients are carried away in the heat of the moment and are unaware of how they are coming across. Keeping a professional tone and treating them with respect are essential in de-escalating these situations.
But it’s also crucial that your team is aware of their rights and are able to set boundaries and stand up for themselves against clients in uncomfortable situations. Great customer service does not mean accepting abuse, even when it’s coming from the clients themselves.
Team members should instead tell clients when their behavior becomes unacceptable, and inform them of the realities of the situation so they can best service their needs. This may entail being firm about official business hours when clients continuously engage them at inappropriate times.
Train staff to effectively assess these situations and empower them to take proactive measures when necessary, such as switching to a phone call when clients send them hostile emails.
2. Engage the person in charge
An important technique in client management is identifying the person in charge and focusing efforts toward servicing that relationship. Oftentimes, client relations are made complicated by the different and occasionally clashing needs of various stakeholders.
Knowing the key point of contact on the client’s side makes the best path forward clearer for members of your team. It also pushes the responsibility of prioritizing needs or mediating the situation onto someone on the client team with the proper level of authority.
It’s important that your team members know who to turn to in the event of difficult situations, and are trained in escalating the situation when appropriate. This involves asking to speak with the person on the client side in charge of the area of responsibility concerned, or escalating to their own management so that the issue can be resolved at a higher level.
3. Cut your losses
When all else fails, your team needs to know when and how to exit a hopeless situation. The reality is that there will be clients who are truly unreasonable, and when all the options for de-escalation have been exhausted, it's not your business's obligation to give them your time and effort.
The anxiety and stress that result from dealing with unreasonable clients can negatively impact productivity, and it often isn’t worthwhile to do so. What’s more, it’s important that you and your team know that at the end of the day, no client is more important than your own well-being.
Your team needs to know how to identify when a client or a situation has reached this point, and to be comfortable enough to raise this issue with management. At that point, you must be able to decide whether continuing a relationship with such a client is in your best interest.
Athens Micro can also support your business by recommending feature-rich solutions for managing customer relationships such as internet-based phone systems and customer analytics software. Reach out to us now, and get your business ready to deal with any client situation that arises.
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