Effective client management requires a keen understanding of psychological tactics. These can be used to sway the relationship in your favor -- not through disreputable methods, but by building trust, respect, and mutual understanding.
As the master of mind tricks, Yoda, would say: “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
If you want to improve your emotional intelligence and ability to handle even the most challenging clients, follow these mind-control tips.
How to Deal with Difficult Clients
1. Use the Non-Sale Approach
There’s nothing more off-putting than a pushy sales rep who allows his desire to make money overshadow the value of the service or product he is selling. Trying to sell too much too soon can scare a client into feeling pressured, rushed, and suckered into more than they are ready for.
On the contrary, a tactic used by many successful businesspeople is often referred to as the “non-sale.” The general premise is to build a prospective client’s trust by pitching only the core service or product they need and recommending that they hold off on additional expenditures until they are ready.
The non-sale is an effective way to build early trust and show a prospect you have their best interest in mind. I know what you’re thinking. You’re paid on commission per sale and want to maximize each opportunity. Not to worry. Establishing long-term relationships built on trust will allow you take full advantage of future opportunities. Even better, clients who like and trust you will often upsell themselves.
2. Never Apologize
Not everyone will agree with this premise, but my experience is that using the word "sorry" will make you look weak. Apologizing puts you on the defensive and gives the client the upper hand, so it’s best not to backpedal.
Even in situations where your company has made a blatant mistake, there are better ways to recover than immediately dropping the S-word.
Instead of this: “I’m greatly sorry for 'fill in the blank.' I promise it will not happen again.”
Say this instead: “It’s unfortunate that 'fill in the blank' happened. My team is aware of how it affected your business, and we thank you for your patience and understanding while we resolve the matter.”
Notice the second option uses the word “unfortunate” to acknowledge remorse and uses the words “patience” and “understanding” to plant a psychological seed in the client’s mind. Even if the client hasn't been patient or understanding, using these words can reverse the tension.
3. Stay Calm and Carry On
Conflict is a part of doing business, but how you react while under fire will have a major impact on the future of your client relationships.
The old adage, “the client is always right” still rings true. As a consultant, you have far more to lose by taking the low road and stooping to a client’s level of hostility. Treating someone with disdain or disrespect can reflect negatively on you and your company, so reputation management should always be top of mind.
Remember, people will often mirror the emotional signals you emit. If you respond with hostility and anger, don’t expect friendliness and understanding in return. Emotional intelligence can often be used to calm the storm, so use these tips for navigating your next conflict:
- Maintain a calm and professional tone while also remaining assertive.
- Refrain from name calling or finger pointing.
- Never say or write anything that can be used against you.
- Always resolved disputes in person or over the phone. Email is not an effective tool for hashing out disagreements.
4. Always Under-Promise
We’ve heard it a thousand times, but in reality, under-promising and over-delivering is harder than it sounds. Saying "yes" is convenient and convincing because it’s what every client wants to hear.
As tempting as it sounds to agree to every deadline, extra feature, or client demand, understand that if you don’t deliver as promised, the relationship is bound to sour and ultimately meet its demise.
Sure, under-promising means you’ll have to say "no," but let’s consider how it can sway things in your favor. Let’s say you tell a client you can’t promise you’ll be able to hit a tight deadline. Setting the expectation that it may not be possible sets you up to play the hero if you’re able to complete the project early or add additional features. More importantly, it protects you from false promises that will end up damaging your relationship.
5. Establish Control
One of the biggest mistakes consultants make is letting clients steer the relationship from the beginning. Remember, clients hire consultants because they want and need guidance. In the mind of most clients, a consultant in need of babysitting can’t be respected or trusted.
By taking control from the outset and showing that you are a confident and capable leader, you’ll have a better chance of commanding respect.
What does control look like? It comes in many forms and is sometimes difficult to pull off because it requires being heavy-handed and assertive while maintaining a calm, cool, and collected appearance. For example: You could gain control of a client relationship by establishing a project schedule with deadlines that are realistic and in your favor. You could dictate the flow of all phone and in-person meetings -- don’t be afraid to cut off the ramblers who love to veer off topic or end a meeting on-time. And you could send weekly project updates with next steps to show full transparency and establish clarity.
How do you use psychological tricks to handle difficult clients? Please share your tips and experiences in the comments section below.