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How to deal with difficult customers remotely

How to deal with difficult customers remotely

Posted 19th November, 2020 by Sarah

Whether you’re a designer, developer, marketer or creative, customer satisfaction is key to your business. You’ll know all too well that keeping clients happy is as much a science as it is an art. Pair the perfect product and/or service with the perfect customer experience, and you have a recipe for success.

Of course it’s a reality for any business that, from time-to-time, you’ll encounter a less than happy client. Coping with a tense situation can be tough. Remove the physical benefits of resolving an issue in person, and the challenge becomes further compounded.

But rest assured, you are not alone. And rest assured that remotely resolving a client issue is far from insurmountable.

Here are some tips to help you resolve a client issue at a distance...

Different types of tricky client personalities

As a business owner, you might encounter a range of tricky client personalities. Here are a handful…

The frustrated customer: Those who are prone to outbursts and have the ability to sour your day. Pro tip: Consider avoiding phrases such as “I’m sorry” in favour of being empathetic, patient and demonstrating a solution.

The indecisive customer: The brief was agreed, clear and set in stone. Yet the customer isn’t happy with the result. Needless to say, your time could be better spent nurturing more decisive, paying customers.
Pro tip: No two customers are the same. So, with this personality type, present them fewer options. Reducing the range of choice can increase their confidence whilst decreasing their indecision.

The keyboard customer: Some customers simply won’t tell you they are frustrated. Those who lack the confidence to vent directly often stay quiet (which is good for nobody). Others, conversely, might take to the online space, publicly airing their grievances on review and social media sites.

Pro tip: Consider stating your case publicly and offer a solution where possible. In doing so, resist the temptation to fire back with venom. Remember: the lines between online and real-life have become blurred and prospective customers might happen across these public conversations.

When and how to respond

There can be any number of reasons a client is frustrated. In some cases, it could be a simple misunderstanding. In others, they might have a legitimate grievance. Either way, in the first instance, you need to respond. To investigate. To keep an open mind. Be mindful of their suspected personality type, but be careful to not simply put them in a box.

After all, when their business is successful, so is yours.

Picture the scene: you’re working on a website development project. The initial scope has changed adding an additional five days to the brief. The client still expects the product to be delivered by the same deadline to the same cost. When the project misses the original deadline, the client is less than pleased. And just wait untill you send them a bigger invoice to account for the additional days.

Prevention is always key. So ensure clarity of communication and project management to avoid avoidable tussles. If, however, the client has misunderstood or you’ve failed to clearly communicate the change in scope, you’ll need to respond. Time to mitigate.

First contact via phone or web cam: When working remotely both yourself and the client might find it easier to deal with difficult issues via email. Try to keep things as personal as possible, though. Face the issue head on by dropping them a line or arranging a web conference call. Doing so means you can address your client and their concerns directly. Listen, take notes, ask questions and, if you don’t have an instant resolve, let them know you are working on it.

First contact via email: Should you communicate via email, carefully consider your words. We all know how emails and texts can easily be misread. In the first instance, avoid apologies and focus on solutions. Aim to understand the issue then revert back with solutions.

If the mistake is yours, fix it. If the mistake is the customer’s, fix it.

Use online tools

It may be quicker and easier to solve problems with a face-to-face meeting, but that isn’t always going to be possible. If not, there are a range of online tools you can employ to make sure that your clients are engaged and involved.

In terms of your workflow, you can collaborate with colleagues, wherever they are physically based, if you use an online workflow platform like Google Drive. Plus, you can invite your clients into the documents, so they can see what you’re doing and actually take an active role in the work. Obviously, you need to be careful about how much access you give them, but allowing clients to see the work in progress and have some input can ensure you’re all on the same page.

Communication is key

The key to avoiding a situation getting out of hand is to communicate with the client.

It’s a good idea to clearly define upfront how and when you will communicate with a client. Maybe give them weekly updates, or contact them regularly to see how things are going. In this way you can nip potential problems in the bud.

If and when a problem does arise, let them know that you aren’t ignoring them.

● Open a channel of communication - whether it be email, phone or video call - and listen to their concerns.

● Respond to them in a timely manner. Simply being prompt can defuse a situation.

● Be open-minded - the problem may be a simple misunderstanding, it may be a small detail that either you or the client have overlooked.

● Stay calm, even if they don’t.

● Keep careful records. Make sure both you and the client understand what you're going to be delivering and when. If things do escalate, keeping records of what they said and how you responded could help avoid confusion further down the line.

It’s just as important to communicate well within your team, too. Regular video-meetings will keep everyone up-to-date on what’s occurring.

That’s the best way to ensure that problem clients are being dealt with effectively and that staff are being supported while they do that.

Once you’ve delivered work, you might encounter the problem clients who don’t pay.

What to do if a client doesn’t pay a bill

The first thing to know is that if you’ve presented the client with an invoice and they haven’t queried it, they’ve agreed to pay it. In which case, you have rights.

This is all explained in the government’s Late Commercial Payments legislation. You can, for example, charge interest on unpaid debts, after a certain time. offers some useful advice on this.

Basically, it boils down to sending them a polite reminder because they may have simply overlooked it. If that doesn’t work, you may consider offering them a payment plan. Clear and constructive communication is always preferable to threatening them with legal action.

All of this can be done by letter or email, and none of it requires phone calls which might be embarrassing or become confrontational.

It’s not personal, it’s business

If a client is concerned about a problem, or about the process, they may become unreasonable. They may want to blame you for problems they are encountering and, in order to justify that to themselves, they may question your abilities and your commitment.

That can be unpleasant. The trick is to not take their attack personally. Think about things from their perspective. Their business may be their entire livelihood, their mortgage and those of their employees may rest on it so, if something isn’t right, they may be overreacting and looking for someone to blame.

This isn't a very professional way for a client to behave but, if you respond in a professional way, you should be able to solve the problem for them.

Remember: most people will judge you not on the issue, but rather, how you respond to it.

Categories: Small Businesses

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