In the new age of social media, it seems OK for many people to moan and complain about their clients and service providers. it would be wise to take a step back and look at the situation from their point of view. Whilst there are always exceptions, usually disgruntled clients have a fair reason to be unhappy, or there was a false expectation from them or you.

Here are 12 things to help you deal with difficult clients and complainers, or better turn them into raving fan evangelists:

1. Most difficult clients have a point/didn’t start that way

It’s very unlikely that someone goes from super-happy to hopping-mad in an instant. Unhappy clients probably started quite happy, but a sequence of events happened (some that you could control, some that you couldn’t) to turn them. Respect that, and endeavour to go back and find out what those sequences were so you can understand them and solve the issues.

2. Find the (part) truth in their unhappiness & endeavour to solve it

Virtually all feedback has at least some (part) truth in it. Take your defensiveness and emotion out of the equation, imagine that it wasn’t you or your business being slammed, see the perspective from the client or supplier, and you will discover the truth for part truth in their critique. (Only) then you can start to solve it and turn your unhappy complainer around.

3. They can become great evangelists

Most of your greatest fans will be people who didn’t’ experience great service at first. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. So your best likely source of your ravings fans is in turning around your unhappy clients. You get to show them that you care, and that you are prepared to solve problems. Most reasonable people do not expect a product or service to be problem free, but they want to know that you will solve them quickly and effectively. See point 9.

4. They probably just want to be heard

Many people do not feel heard or cared for by their providers. With automation comes frustration. Sometimes we just want to talk to a REAL person who can influence a decision. Perhaps your difficult client or complainer has tried to reach you many times but got knock backs from phone numbers, automated email replies or busy staff. This will build up and they will store it until they break and spray it all over social media. Don’t let it get that far by both hearing AND listening to your customers.

5. Care, serve & solve (& don’t over-sell)

If you care, serve and endeavour to solve problems, you win most of the time. You gain deep trust from your client and they will be loyal to you, despite some flaws and mistakes. They will forgive you. SO don’t oversell then under deliver, and make sure you show that you are there for them. Sometimes, a difficult client is only unhappy because of a false expectation set up at the start by over-selling or under-delivering.

6. BUT, some clients aren’t a right fit, or have mismatched expectations; so part ways amicably (if you can)

All this aside, a small percentage of clients are a little unreasonable, or simply not a right fit. They may have false or over expectations, they may be scarred from previous bad experiences, naive, or simply not your target client demographic. Don’t “Fire” them, that’s an awful way of looking at it. Thank them for their interest but show that you care by NOT taking their money. You could refer them to another service provider if you feel they may be better suited, like someone cheaper.

7. Never bash your clients publicly

Tempting though it might be, if you bash your clients publicly, no matter how wrong you feel they are or unfairly treated you have been, everyone else will look at you, know you could do the same to them, and deem you as indiscreet and unprofessional. Keep it between you and them and do not leverage public shaming to get short term gain for long term pain. How you do anything is how you do everything.

8. Without them you are nothing

Without your clients and staff, the money you make in your business would be ZERO. You are not their boss, you serve them. So serve them. Always remember this when your emotions run, or you feel wronged. In the long run people will admire you when you stay silent and professional through unhappy client interactions. You shouldn’t have to try to care for your clients, the best way to show that you care is to actually care.

9. Your unhappiest clients are your greatest source of feedback & growth (& they will tell you when many would keep quiet & moan privately)

I think it was Bill Gates who stated this quote. You see your happy clients will never tell you things that are wrong with your service, even though they will have some. And whilst that feels nice, it doesn’t actually help you. You learn from your mistakes not from your fans. So when you do get the odd unhappy client see it as a great opportunity to learn things about your business you didn’t know. Many of the things you get told could be a surprise to you. Many of your errors may be accidental, or unknown to you, or from a specific staff member or system. You want to know this fast, and then you can solve it fast. Then thank them profusely.

10. NPS every 6 months

Do a survey to both your customer base and your staff (separately) asking for a 0-10 score for your service. This is known as NPS (Net Promoter Score). Have an overall category, and then a few simple sub-categories like speed, personal touch, delivery or other important facts to your business. Then compare it to the previous result and set a target for 6 months time to improve upon.

11. Accept that you can’t please them all.

It’s good to strive for perfection, but you will never achieve it. And that’s OK, you are not a machine. Set a target for your refund/complaints %. Maybe it is 10%, 5% or 2%, depending on your size and business model. It is very important you measure this, because you can’t master what you don’t measure. And they target your yearly improvement. Sometimes. you are unlucky, or a particular client is unlucky, that things always seem to go wrong for a small number of specific people. If so, keep trying to look after them.

12. Make yourself available to them

If you make yourself available, as the head of the business, to people who receive bad service from you, you will win back their trust. Teach your team to care, and they will deal with most of the issues for you. But it is very powerful for you to call people every now and again. apologise, and look to solve the issues. Always apologise for the situation and that the issue happened, but be careful not to apologise for things you didn’t do. Always listen first. Often the client satisfies themselves just by talking it out. Often they calm themselves down if you just listen and care to understand. Tell them what you will do to solve the problem, give them a specific timeline, then sort it out a little better than you said. And referrals will come flooding your way.