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12 Client Retention Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Clients

Obviously, having patience will help you to deal with some of the more demanding or annoying clients, and avoid situations where you can end up damaging your brand. But it’s also important to understand that some clients may require a lot more time than others to actually trust you. Discover the best client retention strategies for service-based businesses, with a focus on dealing with difficult clients.



client retention

If you own a service-based business, dealing with difficult clients is something you will inevitably have to do.

I wish I could say there was a way to avoid dealing with this, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case.

Regardless of what industry you’re in, or the kind of business you own, eventually, you’re going to come across clients who are combative, rude, demanding, high-maintenance, or simply hard to please.

But if you have a solid understanding of client retention strategies, and you know how to temper your reactions and keep calm under pressure, you can handle this stuff with ease and grace.

Over the years, we’ve dealt with our fair share of difficult clients, but we’ve always approached these situations with empathy and looked at them as learning opportunities.

As a result, we’ve been able to build our business based almost solely on referrals, as satisfied clients – whether difficult to deal with or not – recommend us to other business owners.

One of the greatest lessons we’ve learned from all of this is that offering a great experience for clients (yes, even the difficult ones) can leave a lasting impact that they’ll remember for years to come.

How do I know this?

Well, for one thing, we’ve had several clients who decided to move on to what they thought were greener pastures, only to come back to us months or even years later. One client even came back after more than a decade!

What’s more, there have been several times when we were about to fire a particularly difficult client, only to have them promising they’ll change and begging us not to part ways with them.

Examples like this show the significance of giving every client a great experience, no matter how difficult they might be, and how this can significantly boost your brand positioning.

When clients decide to go elsewhere, and they don’t get the same kind of experience, then this positions your brand as a much better option and clients will come running back.

Moreover, these kinds of examples remind us of the importance of understanding how to retain clients and how to deal with difficult clients.

With that in mind, I want to share some of our client retention strategies with business owners like you.

So, if you want to improve client retention, and learn how to deal with difficult clients, then this is one article you’re not going to want to miss.

client retention
Client retention strategies are a must-know when you own a service-based business.

Our Top Client Retention Strategies to Help You Deal With Difficult Clients

Difficult clients may test your patience, push your boundaries, and even make you question whether it’s worth maintaining a professional relationship with them.

But aside from the most extreme examples, it’s almost always beneficial to bite the bullet and continue to keep them as a client.

Because no matter how rude or unreasonable someone might be, and whether you’re in the right or not, how you respond to clients’ concerns is a direct reflection of your brand positioning and not something to be taken lightly.

Unfortunately, one bad interaction with the wrong client can deal a serious blow to the way your brand’s been positioned, as they may try to ruin your reputation by leaving bad reviews or bad-mouthing you to other business owners.

That being said, learning how to deal with these situations in the best possible way is absolutely integral to your brand positioning and the long-term viability of your business.

With that in mind, below I’ve offered our top tips for how to retain clients and deal with the difficult ones like a pro.

1) Active Listening

No matter what kind of client you’re dealing with, it’s important to actively listen to them, giving them your full attention.

Make sure to let them express their concerns (no matter how nonsensical they might be), and ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their issues.

This is even more crucial when dealing with difficult clients, who may be very suspicious of you and just waiting to point out something they think you’ve done wrong.

2) Act With Empathy

Regardless of whether they’re difficult, or an absolute darling, you should always try to put yourself in the client’s shoes and acknowledge their feelings and frustrations, expressing empathy to show that you genuinely care about their concerns.

Oftentimes, we let our egos get in the way of things, rather than focusing on what’s truly important, and when we allow this to affect relationships with clients, this is when things can go awry very quickly.

I can’t tell you how many times a potential issue has been resolved simply by acting with empathy and doing my best to understand things from the client’s perspective.

3) Stay Calm and Professional

When faced with challenging situations or difficult clients, you should always maintain a calm and professional demeanor.

I know it’s tempting to rip into a client who’s disrespecting you or causing problems, but no matter how right you may be, there’s just nothing to be gained from doing that.

So, whether the interaction is taking place in person, over Zoom, or via text (as in the case of a negative review or social media comment) make sure to avoid becoming defensive, rude, or confrontational.

4) Set Clear Expectations

This is especially important in our industry, as many clients don’t know a thing about marketing, and as a result, they tend to have ridiculous expectations about the kind of return they’ll get from investing in our services.

But if you address these kinds of knowledge gaps, challenges, and limitations right from the get-go, it can help to minimize misunderstandings and prevent potential problems.

With that in mind, make sure to clearly communicate what clients can expect from your services as soon as possible, and avoid making any claims that can’t be confirmed or aren’t fully accurate.

5) Effective Communication

One of the best things you can do to improve client retention and mitigate any issues with difficult clients is to keep them informed about the progress of their projects or the resolution of their issues.

Regular updates and open lines of communication build trust, so make sure to keep clients up to date on whatever you’re doing for them and let them know you care about the experience they’re having.

Even if there’s nothing to report, checking in every now and then and asking them for feedback can help you build credibility, improve your services, and do wonders for your brand positioning.

6) Customized Solutions

One of the ways that businesses tend to lose clients, and get stuck in the weeds with difficult clients, is by being too rigid and putting the needs of the business ahead of clients’ needs.

Now, obviously, there are reasons why you do things the way you do, and that may be much more convenient for you, but it’s also important to recognize that each client is unique.

More importantly, they don’t care about your processes and procedures, and being flexible goes a long way toward satisfying clients, so whenever possible, try to tailor your services to clients’ preferences.

For example, when working with clients, we typically use Google Drive, but for whatever reason, some of them can’t stand that platform. So, instead of arguing with them about it, we simply ask them what they would prefer and do our best to accommodate.

7) Keep It Simple

People don’t like jumping through hoops, especially when they’re paying for your services.

That being said, if you want to retain more clients and make it easier to deal with the difficult ones, you have to keep things as simple as possible.

For example, if navigating your website is too convoluted, a potential client may not even want to book a consultation because they don’t want to be bothered figuring out how to do that.

So, make sure to do whatever you can to make things easy for clients (and potential clients), and ensure that every interaction they have with your brand is seamless and straightforward.

8) Transparency

Having a lack of transparency is one of the best ways to ruin your relationship with a client.

So, make sure to be completely honest about your pricing, processes, and any potential delays, and if a mistake occurs, promptly acknowledge it, offer a sincere apology, and take immediate action to rectify the situation.

Demonstrating accountability and honesty can strengthen the trust clients have in you, and they’ll appreciate your transparency, especially when challenges arise.

9) Underpromise and Overdeliver

Another great strategy for client retention, and making it easier to deal with the difficult ones is to underpromise and overdeliver.

Make sure to promise only what you can reliably deliver, and then do whatever you can to go the extra mile, exceed those expectations, and provide exceptional service.

This will help to temper clients’ expectations and is especially effective for dealing with difficult clients, who will have less to complain about and be happy they’re getting more than they thought they would.

10) Train Your Employees

Whenever a client interacts with your brand, whether it’s browsing your website, speaking to you directly, or dealing with an employee, they’re experiencing your brand positioning.

And even a small misunderstanding between a client and one of your employees can completely destroy their perception of your brand.

So, if your employees deal directly with clients, make sure to train them on what to do when handling difficult clients, and don’t allow employees who aren’t quite ready for it to deal with clients directly.

11) Have Patience

Obviously, having patience will help you to deal with some of the more demanding or annoying clients, and avoid situations where you can end up damaging your brand.

But it’s also important to understand that some clients may require a lot more time than others to actually trust you, and if you’re not patient with them, they may never come around.

So, if you want to retain more clients, and make it easier to deal with the difficult ones, try to let things go, give them the benefit of the doubt whenever possible, and do whatever you can to show your commitment to nurturing a long-term relationship with them.

12) When All Else Fails, Let Them Go

As I already mentioned, it’s usually better to continue working with clients, even when they are difficult, but there are also times when it makes more sense to just let them go.

That being said, if you’ve employed all the strategies above, or even most of them, and you still haven’t built trust with a client, and are continuing to deal with a tense relationship, then it’s probably time to consider letting them go.

Often there are things going on with them that we don’t know about and there’s just nothing we can do to make the relationship better.

So, for the sake of your sanity, and that of your team, remember that there are times when it’s best for everyone to go their own separate ways


(Featured image by krakenimages via Unsplash)

DISCLAIMER: This article was written by a third party contributor and does not reflect the opinion of Born2Invest, its management, staff or its associates. Please review our disclaimer for more information.

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Susan Friesen, founder of the award-winning web development and digital marketing firm eVision Media, is a Web Specialist, Business & Marketing Consultant, and Social Media Advisor. She works with entrepreneurs who struggle with having the lack of knowledge, skill and support needed to create their online business presence. As a result of working with Susan and her team, clients feel confident and relieved knowing their online marketing is in trustworthy and caring hands so they can focus on building their business with peace of mind at having a perfect support system in place to guide them every step of the way.