Business bullies are a fact of life. Not everyone learns when they are kids they won’t always get their own way.
The question is, what do you do when a client is a bully? Do you bend to their demands? Find a compromise? Cut them loose?
Here are a few tactics to try.
Listen to their input. Careful listening will often reveal the difference between a bully who wants to show you who’s boss and an unhappy client who has a valid complaint. Ask clarifying questions to understand the problem completely and repeat back what you hear in your own words. This will ensure you are both on the same page.
Find out what they really want. Is the client complaining because it’s just in their nature? Do they think they need to be mean to be respected? Do they hope to intimidate you into discounts or freebies? Don’t try to guess at what they expect. It will just lead to miscommunication and disappointment.
Take good notes. You want to be able to refer back to the conversation in case it comes up later – and with a bully it probably will. Better yet, follow up every phone conversation with an email going over the main points of the conversation, laying out your plans to address their concerns and providing a timeline as to when, specifically they can expect the situation to be resolved.
Update them on progress. Keep your client in the loop. Avoidance is common when dealing with a bully. Why would you call someone who’s just going to yell at you? Being proactive gives you more control. You may catch them off balance and get off the phone before they find something to yell about. If you call regularly, they can’t complain that they don’t know what’s going on.
Avoid displeasure by upping your game. One good thing about bullies is you tend to dot your i’s and cross your t’s to avoid giving them things to complain about. Carry over that pursuit of perfection into everything you do. Bullies will always find something to complain about, but your other clients will benefit from your attention to detail.
Refuse abuse. No one has the right to yell, insult, swear or otherwise make you feel small. If a client persists in this kind of behavior, respond firmly and directly. Let them know their behavior is inappropriate and you will not tolerate it. Warn them you will hang up the phone if they persist and do so. Tell them they are welcome to call when they are feeling calm.
Fire your customer. If a client persists in being abusive to you or other people in the company, it may be time to cut your losses. The revenue you gain from a bully may not be worth the damage to morale that they cause. People are on edge and other clients may not get the attention they deserve because you spend so much time appeasing the abusive customer.
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