How to Manage An Irate Client


angryclient"Speak when you are angry and you'll give the best speech that you will ever regret."

I was inspired to write this post because of an awful situation involving an angry client and a salesperson who was unsure how to address them or the problem. And believe it or not, I actually look forward to these sorts of business dilemmas where clients are ticked off and reading us the riot act. Why? Because I am confident we can make it right. And better. And you can to…

See if any of these reasons why our clients typically get up in arms with us sound familiar to you:

  1. We have not outlined proper expectations upfront.
  2. We have over-promised and/or under-delivered.
  3. We did not establish a bond with them or there wasn’t any historical rapport.
  4. We were not listening or being empathetic on the front end of the problem.
  5. We did not own the problem or make the client, not the problem, the priority.

In our recent case, a large extent of the anger came from a client whose trust we had not yet earned. They saw us as merely a vendor and not a partner, so it was obvious why we were dealing with an unhappy camper. And we knew that if we did not make this first order right, we would lose the client’s business for a lifetime. And this was one of those clients worth fighting for. So, the lesson to learn is that there is a lot of wisdom in doing what you can to earn a client’s trust.

Our predicament was a worst case scenario. It felt as if we were getting yelled at by our dad. When the client was saying things like, “I am disappointed” and “You have let me down,” it very quickly felt a lot worse than them dropping F-bombs in a fit of rage.

You are likely feeling my pain about now and you are hopefully wondering how you can can move past the problem and salvage a relationship the next time you need to right a wrong. Here are some of the tactics we use when our clients are throwing a hissy:

  1. If possible, go see your client in person. Right at that moment. Show them they matter.
  2. Remember, this is not about one order; it is about salvaging the lifetime client relationship. You must consider the client’s lifetime value and look past this one order.
  3. Shut up. More subtly, do not interrupt.
  4. Listen intently.
  5. Do not take it personally.
  6. Do take responsibility even if it is not your fault because ultimately, you will be the person to make it right.
  7. Do not point fingers.
  8. Do not get emotional.
  9. Be, calm, empathetic and apologize with sincerity.
  10. Reiterate the problem and confirm mutual understanding.
  11. Design a mutually agreeable solution and a timeframe to make that materialize.
  12. Get a manager or owner to call or visit and let your client know that the situation has reached the top and that they are aware and helping to make it right.
  13. Take action through triage and make good on the problem with your resolution.
  14. Follow up to ensure your client is satisfied with the outcome. And when the timing is right, ask if they will give you another opportunity. You need that reassurance. If you do not get it, you may need to get really creative to make it right.
  15. Ask your client if it is ok if you can share the problem with your company, for best practice learning, to prevent it from happening again.

When we are in the thick of triage, we also try to retain a positive “can do” attitude. In this case, fortunately, the salesperson and I were able to make good on the problem by filling a last minute backorder issue with a similar, higher priced item at the original price. They were very appreciative of this. On the invoice, we even charged them for the higher priced item but added a discount line to reflect the savings. There was also a lot of follow up to ensure satisfaction. And we are working on a second opportunity with them as I type.

Often, good things, like an even stronger connection with your client, can result from tragedy—if you handle the situation properly.