There are seemingly countless ways to approach client relationships. Still, they all have one thing in common:
But while you work on creating an open channel of communication with your clients, they won’t always return the favor. That scenario can quickly leave you dealing with an angry client.
So, why do clients get angry, upset, or frustrated with freelancers? And what can you do to prevent or manage these issues when they do arise?
The Business of Customer Service
No matter what product or service you offer the world, one thing is true. Whether you like it or not, you’re in the business of customer service.
When we think “customer service,” it’s culturally ingrained in us to think of restaurant servers, retail associates, and other extremely customer-focused roles.
But if you don’t accept that all client-facing work sits on the shoulders of quality customer service, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
However, that’s not the only mistake fledgling entrepreneurs make when attempting to master their customer service skills.
If you think providing great customer service means accommodating your client’s every whim — well, think again.
The customer isn’t always right. There is no 100% right or wrong way to interact with your clients. Instead, think of customer service as an art form. Or, if you prefer, a study in psychology.
7 Ways to Turn an Angry Client into a Happy Customer
Although, just because customer service is an inherent part of nearly every business doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy.
If it were, there’d be far fewer upset customers out in the world.
With that said, learning how to handle angry clients and other client concerns isn’t a complete mystery. All it takes is a little patience, understanding, and critical thinking.
1. Acknowledge their feelings
Starting out on the right foot is crucial if you want to fix a situation with an angry client. With that in mind, dismissing or invalidating your client’s feelings is definitely not the way to start.
When you first hear that a client is unhappy with you, the most natural reaction is to disagree. For the moment, at least, consider keeping those feelings to yourself.
Speaking with an angry customer can very quickly turn into an argument. The distinction, however, is very much in your hands. Instead of instantly refuting their anger, invest the time and emotional energy to acknowledge your client’s perspective.
Worst case scenario? You gain a little more insight into why your client is feeling this way in the first place.
2. Recognize anger as fear
There’s something inherently primitive about anger. More so than any other human emotion, anger seems to spread from person to person like metaphorical wildfire.
But anger doesn’t always come from a place of ill-will. More often than not, anger is actually a result of fear.
Fear of what, exactly?
Even the most professional transaction can be rife with emotion. It’s entirely understandable for a client to feel afraid of losing invested money or trusting the wrong person with their business needs.
No, it’s not necessarily fair for someone to turn around and direct these feelings at you. But understanding how these two emotions overlap is a valuable tool when dealing with angry clients.
3. Manage your own emotions
This tip is obvious. Still, it must be put into writing.
When responding to an angry client, your emotions are not a factor. It’s your job to address the issue and provide a solution that works for all parties involved. And you must do so with professionalism and tact.
Yes, you’re allowed to feel hurt or frustrated. But it’s neither appropriate nor productive to direct those emotions at your client.
4. Apologize (and mean it)
A simple apology can go a long way. If the apology has some weight behind it, that is.
So, don’t just blindly say, “I’m sorry.”
When apologizing, whether spoken or in writing, take the opportunity to utilize active listening techniques:
- Acknowledge why your client is feeling angry by summarizing their concerns in your apology.
- Ask for additional input on why they’re upset and what measures they expect as a solution.
- Show your concern through sympathetic body language and tone.
Combined with a carefully thought-out apology, these techniques can help streamline the transition back to a healthy working relationship.
5. Stay honest
Put on the spot, it’s human nature to try and de-escalate a situation by saying whatever needs to be said. It’s also tempting to get caught up in excuses and explanations.
Here’s the thing, though:
Excuses, no matter how “good,” won’t fix a situation already gone awry.
The fastest way to earn back favor with an angry client is by humbly accepting full responsibility for the issue at hand.
Maybe your client had a part in making your relationship go sour. As the service provider, though, it’s not in your best interest to point these facts out.
Also, avoid empty promises.
If you can’t 100% guarantee that you can follow through with a solution for your client, you’re doing more harm than good by offering it at all.
6. Simplify the issue
After acknowledging your client’s anger and submitting your own apology, you need to ensure everyone is on the same page before proceeding with a solution.
Arguably, the simplest way to do this — for everyone involved — is to break the problem into smaller parts. Once this is done, you and your client can agree on solutions for each step individually, rather than the entire problem as a whole.
7. Set it in stone
If your client’s anger originally stemmed from an issue like a missed deadline or lackluster deliverables, then it’s fair for them to be wary of how the promised solution will pan out.
While it’s ultimately on you to follow through on your promises, you can help ease some of a concerned client’s worries by crafting a solid schedule and agreement.
Combined with breaking the overarching problem into smaller pieces, this strategy offers several fail-safes when it comes to completing your promised solution and making sure your client is satisfied with everything as it falls into place.
Taking on the Financial Side of Angry Freelance Clients
Whatever the reason for your client’s anger, these cases almost always turn into an issue of money.
More specifically, the issue of whether to refund or offer a discount for your client’s trouble.
Ultimately, this decision is entirely up to you. There are pros and cons to both sides.
While offering a steep discount to an angry client can smooth over the current issue at hand, it can devalue your services in the future (especially if you hand out these discounts with any frequency).
On the other hand, refusing a refund or discount when one is justified could quickly ruin your working relationship with your current client and any others who hear about your decision down the road.
So, how do you take on the financial side of handling angry clients without hurting your business in the process?
Keep good records
Before you can decide whether to offer financial compensation to an angry client, you need to take a look at the big picture. But if your invoicing and bookkeeping practices are all over the place, this is much easier said than done.
By keeping quality records of your client payments, you can quickly and easily look at your past relationship with a client and determine where they fit into your business as a whole.
For example, the consequences of an angry client who accounts for 2% of your earnings will be nowhere near as dire as one who accounts for 40%.
Likewise, a potential refund of $200 will probably affect your business much differently than one of $4,000.
Adjust your prices
If your business finances operate with a slim (or non-existent) margin-of-error, you could quickly find yourself in a sticky situation.
In reality, your rates should account for more than just your time and business expenses. You should also account for potential hiccups in your business finances, such as refunds and discounts given to clients — this is especially important if you work in a high-risk field.
In other words:
If your current rates mean that discounting a portion of a client’s contract would put you in a bad place financially, it’s time to reassess.
Use clear invoicing
Offering refunds or discounts will do little to satisfy an angry client if they have no idea how your financial relationship currently works. The simplest way to ensure everyone is on the same page is with clear and professional invoicing practices.
Remember that detailed financial records don’t just benefit you and your business. They also help keep your clients informed regarding your rates and any discounts or refunds being issued.
Even if you’re not too concerned with handling angry clients and their respective finances, there’s no reason not to switch over to a streamlined invoicing program like invoicely.
Paper invoices served their purpose for decades, but digital is definitely the way to go for modern entrepreneurs and business owners. Once you make the switch, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do so from the very start.
Learn more about invoicely and how it can make tracking your and your clients’ finances more organized, safer, and surprisingly convenient.