In my practice, I have always viewed the difficult client as a positive challenge. The positive aspect arises from the opportunity for learning and growth as a practitioner, as we can all benefit from constructive criticism. However, in the moment, it may not always feel like a positive learning experience, and the feedback may not always be delivered in a constructive manner.
I must admit, I have been very fortunate in that I haven't had to deal with unhappy clients often; however, it does happen from time to time. Knowing how to navigate client dissatisfaction is crucial for minimizing negative reviews and defusing situations before they escalate. Below are the five principles I adhere to each time I encounter a difficult client.
1) Maintain Your Composure – As challenging as it may be, staying calm and collected is the best approach for defusing an uncomfortable or awkward situation. If you let your emotions get the better of you, you're likely to say and do things you'll regret, further fanning the flames. Remind yourself that the issue at hand belongs to the client, not you, and it's up to them to resolve it. That being said, you should always have a strict policy against any form of abuse, and if a client becomes verbally abusive, terminate the appointment immediately—no exceptions.
2) Listen – This point is arguably the most important when it comes to dealing with a difficult client. They want their grievances heard; therefore, listen. Sometimes, merely allowing them to vent will defuse the situation, or it may give them a chance to reflect on their own behavior. On occasion, clients have expressed dissatisfaction with their slow progress. However, after they've talked through their frustrations, we often discover areas that require improvement, and identify other ways for them to invest the necessary energy into my nutritional plan to achieve the results they desire.
3) Be Confident in your Knowledge and Abilities - When you are new to any profession it is easy to doubt yourself when things go awry, but don’t. You know your stuff, and the knowledge you are sharing with your client is shared with the best of intentions. Make sure that you remain confident in your abilities even during those difficult situations.
4) Compromise and Be Adaptable – There have been times that I have had to switch up a plan mid journey with a client as the original plan isn’t working quite as intended. As a result, I have had to make changes or make alternate suggestions to aid a client to reach their goals. In such cases, I don't perceive this as a failure on my part; instead, I remind myself that every individual is unique and will respond differently. Being open to this variability enables you to offer the best possible service to your clients.
5) Learn from the Situation and Mistakes – If there is anything to take away from dealing with a difficult client, it is how to improve your handling of the situation the next time it happens. Continual learning is vital for your growth as a business professional and a respected nutritionist in your community. While it's also okay to acknowledge mistakes, understand that you can't please everyone. Even if you offer to resolve an issue, some clients may remain dissatisfied, but accepting that and moving on is also part of your professional growth.
Dealing with a difficult client is seldom a pleasant experience, as most of us are averse to conflict. The next time you find yourself in such a situation, reflect on the five principles outlined above. They will help make the experience less uncomfortable and offer you a learning opportunity for future interactions.