A Placid Plan Pleases Provoked People (5 Steps for Dealing with Angry Clients)

It doesn’t matter whether your office is a boardroom, classroom, or laundry room, inevitably your clients will get upset. Regardless of how hard you work, the services you provide fall short sometimes. I’ve learned to apply a prescriptive process that calms down the angriest of customers and gets the relationship back on track.

Last week I received a scathing email from a student’s father. He heard an incomplete account of an event, assumed I had ill intentions, and copied the principal on his angry rant.

kettle with boiling water

My initial reaction was defensive. Didn’t this guy realize how much I care about his child and how hard I had worked to meet his son’s needs that day? What was his intention in copying the principal? Why didn’t he pick up the phone to address his concern with me in a respectful manner? As I re-read the email, I felt my frustration heating up like a boiling kettle about to blow.

When emotionally charged tension occurs in any relationship, it’s important to respond rather than react. Take time to thoughtfully craft a positive way to address the issue. Resist the urge to lash back, and take a break from the heat of the moment. A walk around the building, a diet coke, and your favorite junk food from the vending machine never hurt either.

Use these 5 steps for dealing with an angry client:

  1. Apologize right out of the gate. It doesn’t matter whether the client has a legitimate reason to be upset or not, in your opinion. Something went wrong. They’re not happy and their feelings must be acknowledged. A simple “I sincerely apologize that my discussion with So-and-So upset What’s-His-Name,” goes a long way.
  2. State the facts. After their feelings are validated, the client is more likely open to hearing facts surrounding the issue. Make detailed statements about events, the efforts of team members, and what you know about the situation causing the problem. Keep emotion out of it.
  3. Reassure and encourage. Tell the client everything you’ve been doing to meet their needs. Point out some really positive things related to their concern. What has been going well? What can be celebrated?
  4. Propose a plan. If you don’t have a plan in place to address their concerns, let them know you are working on one and when they can expect to have it in place. Remember: A placid plan pleases provoked people.
  5. Appreciate the communication. Rude ranting and spewing aside, thank the client for their communication with you. It’s better to know they’re upset than not know. “Thank you for expressing your concerns with me” demonstrates your commitment to building a good working relationship going forward.

This formula works. In the particular case mentioned above, my approach resulted in a satisfied parent, an encouraged child, and a principal thanking me for handling the issue so well that she didn’t have to get involved.

What approaches have you used to soothe an angry client?

 
 
  • Cord Shiflet

    I’m going to keep this handy so when you call me mad one day I’ll know how to handle it! great stuff Tracy….thanks for taking the time to put this together.

    • Ha! Thanks, Cord. Aren’t you glad I gave you the tools to deal with me when I lose my mind? It’s bound to happen soon. Screen your calls.

  • Wendy

    Perfectly and succinctly put…. Totally applicable to all aspects of life and work. I use these techniques all the time!