6 tips for handling difficult clients

By Mariama Holman and Kate Buhr

At one point or another, everyone runs into a challenging client. They are rude, demanding, curt, and maybe even curse over the phone.

Here are a few quick tips for turning those sour lemons into lemonade.

  • Don’t take it personally.

Oftentimes, when a client is upset, it’s not you at all. It’s actually them. Their life might have taken an unfortunate turn for the worst. Perhaps they’ve had one of “those days” – their car broke down on the way to work. They spilled coffee all over their dress. They were late dropping off the kids at school.

Sometimes a customer service representative is just the trash can for the clients’ emotional issues. Realize that the client is just struggling to manage the challenges in their life. Handle the situation with empathy rather than picking up an attitude yourself. Always be aware of your tone of voice, as clients’ tones will often reflect what they hear over the phone.

  • Patience isn’t just a virtue.

Patience is not an ethereal quality relegated to Mother Theresa-esque characters. It is an action to be put into practice every day, every moment. Before becoming irate at the client or the situation, recall all of the grace and patience you might have received in life. Remember the mischievous little things your caretakers had to endure from your childhood? Or the perpetual bad-attitude you rocked as a teenager? Someone was patient with you and now it’s your turn. Retribution.

The first step to patience is actually tuning out emotions and tuning into what the client is saying. Clients want to know that their complaints are heard and acknowledged. They appreciate good listening. If you take the time to actually practice active, empathetic listening, they will be more inclined to give you the same courtesy. Clients will respect you if they feel that you are not the enemy, but a partner who understands their point of view.

  • Change your mental filter.

This chorus sung by Ella Fitzgerald that describes the response perfectly:

“You have to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative…latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with mister in-between…” The chorus begins at 1:10 in the video below. 


Look at the good, not the bad of the situation. By drawing attention to the positive, it not only helps you cope with a tense moment but eases other’s frustrations as well. Hum, chant and whistle Accentuate The Positive to keep a clear head in the midst of conflict.

  • Suggest a (good) solution.

Clients are not just calling to complain – they want results. They want a solution to their problem. Be the clients’ problem-solver. This is always the best course of action and the clients will definitely appreciate a solid fix. Do not be afraid to be creative and think outside of the box. Utilize any opportunity that will benefit them and their businesses. Just make sure the solution is timely, efficient, and of course, actually resolves the problem.

  • Keep it candid and carry on.

Sometimes clients are completely disrespectful – yelling, cursing and insulting. The best way to handle this situation and get the client to actually listen is to be honest. One can be candid without being rude or raising their voice. Confidence is important, as it reflects how the client will respond to you. If one portrays themselves as having low to no-self esteem they will never gain the client’s respect.

  • Kill them with kindness.

Unfortunately this saying is not practiced as often as it is heard. Even when a client is flipping tables in rage, treating them with respect, civility and tact will always pay off.

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