Dealing with difficult clients


We’ve all had clients who are overly demanding, rude to you or your staff, or complain about things until you want to scream. And let’s not forget the clients who want to micro-manage their case.

Sometimes, you have to sit these clients down and have a heart-to-heart talk. Explain the problem and ask for their cooperation. You do risk embarrassing them, and perhaps losing them, but when things have gone too far, you do what you have to do.

Before things go that far, however, look for less confrontational ways to deliver your message. You may be able to do this by talking about the problem in a letter to all clients or in your newsletter. It’s easier to say things to “everyone” than to confront a misbehaving individual.

When you post an article about “best practices” for working with your office, for example, and discuss which decisions the attorney makes, and why, you allow the micro-managing client to see what they are doing wrong and give them a chance to correct course. If they don’t, you still have the option of speaking to them individually.

Clients need to be trained. You need to tell them what is expected of them. At the same time, tell them what to do if they have a complaint or disagree with something, or want to make a suggestion. Give them a path to follow that allows them to be heard without manhandling you and your staff.

Put your policies in your new client kit and post them on your website. Explain how things work at your first meeting with new clients.

Dealing with difficult clients is easier when you address their difficulties before they occur.

Avoid billing problems and complaints. Get the Check.


Do you have complaining clients? That’s good!


The other night my wife and I went to a well-known Mexican restaurant. We ordered the fajitas “combo” which was billed as having chicken, steak, jumbo shrimp, and scallops.


Unfortunately, it wasn’t yummy, it was just okay.

I could accept that. What I couldn’t accept is that there were only two pieces of steak, two pieces of chicken, two (small) shrimp, and no scallops. None.

I told the waiter I was not happy and he went to summon the manager. He came back and said the manager couldn’t come over, he was busy talking to some customers.

I’m a customer! An unhappy one! He should be talking to me!

The waiter said he’d had other complaints about the size of the portions and offered me a free dessert. I declined and asked for the check. I told him I wouldn’t be back and I would tell everyone I knew not to come.

And I will.

Because I can.

What kind of manager won’t come to talk to a customer with a complaint? An idiot, that’s what kind.

When a customer (client) has a complaint, you must talk to him, validate him, and offer to fix the problem. You do not want a customer going away angry, ready to tell dozens of other customers about his bad experience.

You must do this, because it’s the right thing to do.

You must do this because it can stop a dissatisfied customer from spreading negative messages to other prospective customers, which will lose business and generate ill will.

You must do this because when you turn complaining clients into satisfied clients (through validation, apologizing, and various make-goods), that client often turns into one of your biggest advocates, spreading the word about how you took care of him properly when something wasn’t right.

Customers (clients) don’t expect perfection. They expect to be treated right. When there’s a problem, they don’t want it to be ignored.

And so if you own a restaurant (law firm), you definitely want to know when a customer has a problem because it is an opportunity for you. You should welcome complaints, and embrace clients who have them. They are doing you a favor by telling you how to improve.

Unfortunately most clients who are unhappy don’t complain. They just stop calling. You don’t want that to happen. You want to know if they are unhappy with your services, your staff, or you. You want to know so you can make things right for them and so you can fix the problem that is probably causing other clients to be unhappy.

At the very least, give your clients an “exit survey,” asking them to rate and review your performance. Ask them what you did well and what you could improve.

In addition, put a form on your website with language that encourages visitors to share feedback anonymously.

And, if you forget the scallops, make sure you don’t ignore the client. There are too many other lawyers who offer a good fajitas combo.

Marketing is everything you do to get and keep good clients. Here’s The Formula.