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Angry Client? Listen and Keep Your Cool


We’ve all been there. One minute you’re feeling productive and energized and then BOOM out of nowhere comes an angry client phone call or email that blows up your day. The accusations, the indignation and sometimes the salty language of a disgruntled person can get anyone’s back up. Quickly.

Getting defensive is a normal, yet counterproductive reaction. If you are able to resist the temptation to strike back, the problems may melt away — and that disgruntled person may just turn into a company evangelist.

Here are five key ideas to help you regain control and remind your clients that your company is there for them.

1. Attitude. Reframing an unpleasant situation moves you from feeling attacked to feeling empowered. Though never a pleasant experience, when you adjust your attitude an aggravation morphs into an opportunity to prove yourself and what your company stands for.

At my company Sisarina, a branding firm, I strongly believe in its mission and am deeply committed to it. I know the value we bring to our customers, which helps fuel my approach to whatever complaint is being directed to me.

No need to resign yourself to losing a client or accepting a browbeating.  Instead challenge yourself and drive your reaction with the question: “How can I turn this around or at least improve this person’s perception?” Believe in your ability to “take a sad (or mad) song and make it better.”

2. Detach. Stay calm, stay professional. Remember this person is not your enemy and their feelings are not personal. Try to see beyond the hostile energy they might be reining down on you. Even if you can’t understand what’s motivating them, suspend judgement and listen.

3. Listen. Being heard is a very powerful and basic human need. Just listening immediately begins to defuse a tense situation. Stay open to this person’s point-of-view, even if you know they’re wrong. Resist the temptation to formulate a counter argument, or rebuttal. Keep your entire focus on this person, their words and what might be behind them. Are they under pressure or on a deadline? Has there been a series of problems and this one small thing is just the last straw?

4. Focus. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Now that you’ve heard them, you can quickly evaluate what’s feasible given the circumstances. There is usually a temporary or partial remedy that’s immediately available. Jumping into action mode lets the client know you’re there to help them solve the problem.

There are times when the only option is to listen and empathize. Under no circumstances should you become someone’s punching bag. A polite reminder that the conversation is no longer productive is in order. Then exit stage left!

5. Examine. As Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Figure out how to improve your processes or communication to avoid similar blow ups in the future. If complaining is chronic from a particular client, sometimes it’s best to part ways. Identifying your velvet-rope clients can reduce strife and restore harmony.

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