Communication skills for difficult situations

Articles happy and indifferent postits

Handling disgruntled clients is always a challenge, but there is a step-by-step process that works in almost every case. Once you know what to do and say, and how to say it, you should be able to save the day and maybe even improve the relationship.

Step 1: Listen

It may be tempting to react immediately, especially if you feel the client is being rude or unreasonable, but you must resist. Remember, they are unhappy with the quality of the service they’ve received, not with you, so don’t take it personally.

Stay cool, invite them to go over what happened and hear them out without interrupting them. You need to understand the problem fully - from the client’s point of view - before attempting to solve it.

Step 2: Restate their concerns

When they’ve finished talking, summarise what you have heard: what you believe had upset them. You need to be sure you will be addressing the right issue, so ask any questions to further clarify their complaint. Restating their concerns back to them also shows you were listening, which can help lower the tension. Talk slowly and calmly and use a low tone of voice.

Step 3: Empathise and apologise

Whether the client's complaint is justified or not, show them you understand their concerns and why they are unhappy. You could say: 'I understand why you're upset. I'm very sorry about what happened. Let’s see what we can do to make things right.'

Step 4: Offer a solution

If you know how to resolve the complaint and the decision is within your remit, tell the client how you'd like to correct the situation. If you are not sure, or if they don't like what you are proposing, ask them what they feel should happen.

If you don't have the authority to sanction the proposed solution, acknowledge it and advise them that you will need to refer it to your superiors.

Step 5: Follow through and follow-up

Now explain every step you're going to take to fix the problem, then follow through on your promise. Follow up with your client over the next few days to check they are happy with the resolution and there is no lingering frustration.

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