Anyone who deals with the public will at some point encounter difficult clients, especially with something as emotionally charged as health care. Whatever has upset your client or made them challenging to work with may not be your fault and may not even have anything to do with you, but you still need to find a way to work through the problem and resolve it.
Take a look at our tips on working with difficult clients.
Empathize, but don’t escalate – It can be tempting to let your emotions come to the surface when dealing with someone who is angry or frustrated, but you have to remain calm and maintain control of the situation. If the client is upset because of someone else’s actions, responding with your own emotion, even in sympathy, can escalate the situation. Calmly acknowledge your client’s feelings to make them feel like you’re on their side without adding more fuel to the fire.
Get to the root of the issue – You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand. Ask open ended questions until you understand exactly what mistake or misunderstanding led to the problem. Especially if someone is upset, you may have to sort through a certain amount of venting to get to the heart of the issue, so be patient and keep asking questions until you’ve figured it out.
Don’t apologize for things that aren’t your fault – Eliminate “I’m sorry” from your vocabulary unless something truly is your fault. It can be instinctive to apologize to someone who is upset, but by doing so you indirectly take responsibility for the problem. You can be empathetic and acknowledge someone’s feelings of frustration or disappointment, just use language that focuses on their emotions and not on accepting blame. Phrases like “I can understand why you’re frustrated” or “I’d be upset in your situation, too” can work as alternatives.
Don’t over-promise to smooth things over in the moment – Promising you’ll fix something right away is well-meaning and may calm a client down in the moment, but if it turns out you can’t fix it or that it will take some time or involvement from other people, you’ve just created another problem. Now not only is the client upset about the original issue, they’re upset about being promised a resolution that hasn’t materialized. If you’ve offered solutions and your client has refused them, don’t offer them everything just to make them happy. Ask them something like “what resolution are you looking for today?” or “what would make this right for you?” If what they initially ask for isn’t possible or isn’t appropriate, offer an alternative.
Take ownership of the situation – Whether the situation is your fault or not, you’ll gain your client’s trust by taking ownership of the problem and committing to find a solution. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything single handed, but it does mean you stay involved until the problem is resolved. If a problem requires several steps or a period of days to fix, communicate that clearly to your client and follow up as things progress.
Know when to say no – There are going to be times when a client simply wants something from you that you can’t give them. If you’ve tried to offer solutions and been turned down, you’re better off simply telling the client that those are the options and if they’d like to try and find a solution elsewhere they’re welcome to. Don’t compromise your personal ethics or business practices for the sake of one angry person.
Dealing with difficult clients can be a challenge, but if you can turn one around, they’re often the most loyal and supportive clients you can find.