Angry clients are like avalanches. The trouble typically starts small with minor disagreements, and if left unresolved, it turns into this earth-shattering deluge that can wipe out everything in its way. In the case of freelancers, it would lead to more stressful conversations, not being paid, churn, and negative reviews and word-of-mouth.
Firstly, accept that angry clients are inevitable. Whether you are working with a small startup or a massive enterprise, things are bound to go wrong somewhere or the other. The mark of a successful freelancer is how professionally and tactfully you deal with such trying situations. For that, you need to be strong-willed and composed.
“The life of the professional writer – like that of any freelance, whether she be a plumber or a podiatrist – is predicated on willpower. Without it, there simply wouldn’t be any remuneration, period.” – Will Self
Although your personal traits play a critical role here, a lot of it comes down to how prepared you are to face an angry client. When you know what to expect and what to do, it is easier to stay determined and calm.
That’s precisely what this article is about. We will help you understand what the possible reasons for a client to get angry are and how to calm them down.
Why do clients get angry?
According to Mind.org, a popular mental health blog, people get angry when they are threatened or attacked, frustrated or powerless, being invalidated or mistreated, or when others are not respecting their feelings or possessions.
The same applies to clients. What makes it worse is that, most freelancers, even the experienced ones, are not clear how to interact with clients. This leads to faux pas, misunderstandings, and blunders, and eventually, angry email exchanges, raised voices, and bad ratings and reviews.
This is not to say freelancers are to blame for it all. Unlike full-time employees, they don’t receive any orientation or training in this regard. On top of that, most freelancers have a very transactional relationship with their clients.
Let’s delve a bit deeper and try to understand why do clients get angry.
1. When you over promise but under deliver
Imagine you are a freelance developer working with a small business. You promised the client that you would complete their project in a couple of weeks. However, even after a month, you haven’t finished the task. The client is bound to feel cheated and betrayed.
Remember, a client hires you because they trust your capabilities. So, when you miss a deadline or turn in substandard work, you are effectively letting them down.
Besides that, whoever collaborated with you would be answerable to someone else above them. Internally, the responsibility of the failure would be attributed to that person, so their frustration is completely justified.
2. When your behaviour is deemed as unprofessional
Although you are not a full-time employee, you are still expected to act professionally with clients. Everything from joining late to a conference call to making excuses for missing deadlines can be considered as unprofessional.
It can extremely be frustrating for the client, and they would assume that you don’t respect their time or intelligence.
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3. When past experiences cloud the client’s judgement
The adage of ‘once bitten twice shy’ is very much applicable here. If a client had terrible experiences working with a freelancer before, they would be much more cautious and intolerant the next time around.
You might not have a clue why the client is acting that way. On the other hand, the client is trying to ensure there isn’t a repeat of what happened last time. Oftentimes, such misunderstandings can easily lead to flare-ups.
4. When you are not ready to own up
When you make a mistake, own up. It is as simple as that. If you don’t, clients have every right to throw a fit, even more so if you try to shift the blame on to them by sighting some loophole.
Imagine you are a freelance content writer, and you send the final draft to the client without keyword optimising it despite explicit instructions to do. Obviously, the client would be angry, and if you try to deflect the blame by saying that it wasn’t part of the initial guidelines, things will only get worse. It is extremely unprofessional and won’t be tolerated by many.
5. When the client is hampered by personal problems
Sometimes, the reason for the flare-up may not be work-related. At the end of the day, you are working with people, and these people have a life outside work. So, personal problems along with work pressure can make people feel stressed and on edge. And they might just end up taking all their frustration out on you.
Here’s a quick summary of why clients get angry:
As a freelancer, you need to treat every client with due respect and consider them as a source of valuable insight, irrespective of whether they are happy or angry. If a client is upset, always make an effort to understand the reasons behind it. Not only would it help repair the relationship, but also learn what went wrong and avoid committing the same mistakes again in the future.
How to calm down angry clients?
Studies have proven that when people are angry, they don’t wait to think. Instead, they have an intense craving to act. So, when an angry client confronts you, the solution is not to respond in kind. That will only make the situation worse.
Remember, you have a lot on the line. You will lose a client forever (and possible referrals) and have to bear the bad rep that comes along with it. More importantly, you miss out on a chance to improve your services as a freelancer.
So, learn to curb your instincts and focus on calming down the angry client. Then understand where things went wrong, and how to rectify the situation.
Here are a few ways to deal with an angry client:
1. Learn to stay composed in stressful situations
When confronted by an angry person, typically you feel stressed. That’s your brain’s standard response to conflicts. It is an indication that you are under attack or about to be attacked.
At this point, your brain starts to prime your body for ‘fight or flight’ by releasing adrenaline and cortisol hormones. They make humans more impulsive and quick to react. While it may be handy when there is a threat of physical harm, it doesn’t help in an office setting.
So, next time when your client gets angry at you, keep your mind calm. This way your brain won’t go into the ‘fight or flight’ mode. You will be able to see past their anger and make sense of why they are angry.
Some ways to train your mind to be stress-free:
2. Actively listen to the angry client
Nobody likes to be called out, especially when you believe you are not at fault. But, trying to prove your point to a ranting client is not a good idea, unless you want to make them angrier. Typically, people behave irrationally when they are angry. So, curb your urge and listen to them.
Not just listen, you need to be empathetic. You have to give the client your complete attention, make them feel comfortable, and let them know that you understand their frustration.
The bottom line is that, your aim should be to understand their perspective, find out where things went wrong, and what can you do now, and not to fix the issue.
For instance, if the client is angry at that your designs weren’t good enough, don’t try to explain your logic. Instead, understand what exactly are they looking for, tell them you understand their frustration, and promise to send the new designs as soon as possible.
3. Learn to apologize sincerely and effectively
A genuine apology is 100x more potent than discounts and compensations. On the other hand, nobody likes fake excuses. Something like ‘I’m sorry you felt the quality of the articles was not up to the mark’ will only leave the angry client more enraged. It sounds as if you see nothing wrong with them and only the client is incapable of seeing the quality of your articles.
First rule and the most important of apologizing is, don’t deflect the blame, instead own up for your mistakes. It doesn’t matter whether you are at fault or not. Explain what went wrong and that it wasn’t acceptable.
In the case of our earlier example, a more genuine apology would be: this happened because I wasn’t clear about the tone you wanted, but I should have cleared that up before I started writing. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused.
4. Ask the right questions to regain the client’s trust
Apologizing is only half the job done. If you want to continue working with the client, you’d have to regain their confidence. A mere ‘I will do my best to fix the situation’ won’t be enough to repair the relationship. It sounds more like an empty promise.
Let them know you will be there every step of the way to ensure a positive outcome. It shows there’s more to you than just commissions and paychecks, and that you actually want to solve the client’s problems.
The key here is to ask the right questions. For starters, ask them about what would be an ideal solution to the problem — something that would ensure everything goes as per the client’s plans.
Once you understand that, reassure them by briefing them your on plans to solve the issue and how long exactly would it take.
For instance, if you are a frontend developer and your client is unhappy with how the blog looks on the mobile, a good way to reassure them would be ‘I will make the necessary corrections and get it ready before the launch next week’.
Couple of things to note before we wrap up:
- Ensure you have a system in place to regularly get feedback from your clients. This will help avoid the build-up of resentment. You can ensure the end-product is more in line with what the client wants. Even something like a Google Form would be enough.
- One way to control yourself during heated situations is to find out your emotional triggers. It can be challenging to identify what exactly our triggers are, but this process of getting to know and understand them can help us heal, and learn how to cope better in response.
When you are self-employed, you are bound to encounter angry clients often. Obviously, you won’t be able to win back all such clients. Sometimes you won’t even feel like trying, especially when they are rude or demanding or nonsensical (like the one below). There is nothing wrong with letting such clients go.
It is up to you to decide whom to appease and whom to let go. Remember, your reputation is on the line, you don’t want it to suffer for want of trying. Understand why they are angry, then follow the steps mentioned above to calm them down and repair the relationship.
If you are successful, you are more likely to have a long term relationship client. They know that you don’t give up easily.