Eight-Steps to Detoxify Rude Clients

CrabypantsYou’ve completed a project that should satisfy your customer’s needs. You worked hard to keep all of their directions and desires in mind while creating their voice-over or other freelance deliverable. After you send it to him, Mr. Crankypants promptly responds either with a call or e-mail to unload his unhappiness about what he received, and he is not nice about it! What to do?

1.  Smile.

Stay focused. Read or listen for clues why they are unhappy and above all else, smile. Don’t let Crankypants bring you down to his or her level. Be determined to remain positive during your interaction. If replying in e-mail, keep the tone of your message positive. When talking with them on the phone, keep a warm, honest smile in your voice. And if you’re dealing with your client in person, keep the corners of your mouth up in a genuine smile. Difficult? Yes, but so important to do.

2.  Allow your client to do the talking and ask open ended questions to keep the conversation moving forward.

Everybody has an occasional bad day. Don’t stop Mr. Crankypants from opening up and expressing his feelings. It could be that he is unsure how to continue. Maybe a peer gave him super critical feedback and was strongly encouraged to unload on you. Maybe Mr. C. got a ticket on the way to work and your project was the first thing he saw when he sat down at his desk. When it’s your turn to speak, ask specifically what he doesn’t like. Collect as much information as possible.

3.  Apologize to the client and validate their feelings.

One of the quickest ways to defuse a perturbed client is to apologize for what they perceive as the thing making them angry. Validate their beliefs. You don’t have to agree about the complaint, but let Crankypants. know that you understand his feelings, you hear what he is saying.

4.  Continue to be neutral in tone.

Attempting to match Mr. Crankypants’ current, nasty disposition will not have a positive affect. Manage the situation so that emotions are filtered and information gathering continues. Using language that is positive or neutral rather than negative will a go a long way in getting to a resolution. Smile.

5.  Look or listen for the main issue.

While Crankypants may be venomous in general about something he believes is not right, pay attention for the one thing that has him in tantrumonious knots. When you let him talk or respond freely, he will get around to expressing the exact issue. Take notes while talking to Mr. Crankypants on the phone and take a moment to sift through his words in e-mail.

6.  Dial in your emotions.

When or if you find that dealing with Mr. Crankypants is becoming more than you can deal with, pause the interaction. Let Crankypants know that you’re looking into his issue and will need time to respond. This will likely give Crankypants time to chill and you time to gather your thoughts. Don’t become emotional because doing so will be the first step in loosing control of the situation. Remain emotionally intact.

7.  Neutralize the offensive behavior.

While Mr. C. is making you crazy with stinky behavior, don’t let your building negativity show. Regardless of what your third-grade math teacher told you, two negatives do not make a positive in this situation. Continue to let Crankypants know that you understand why he is displeased.

8.  Don’t take it personally.

As freelancers, we are very close to the work we create. We put a lot of time and creative effort into almost everything we deliver. When Mr. Crankypants is messing up your day with his indelicate attitude, try to remember it’s not about you but about the deliverable. That’s probably the hardest thing to accomplish out of this list of eight, but it’s important to compartmentalize your personality from your work. The attack is on your work, not you.

*Bonus Tip.

When you receive a scathing e-mail from a client who goes great lengths to define your skill or product as anything but valuable, the temptation may be to volley back a reply that is equally nasty. Go ahead and type out the response. That’s right. Create a new message and type away. Let that customer know you’re on to them. Make them feel diminished. Turn them to ashes with well placed inflammatory words and combustible phrases. Type until you can type no more. That’ll show ‘em! Now, the secret is that after you’re done typing, walk away and let the message simmer for ten-minutes or so.

When you come back to the message, find the key on your keyboard labeled Delete and press. The message goes to the trash along with your hurt, retaliatory feelings. You’ve gotten it off your chest and it’s time to take care of the customer with professionalism. Refer to the first step in this article and respond.

17 thoughts on “Eight-Steps to Detoxify Rude Clients

  1. Reuven Miller February 14, 2013 / 5:10 am

    Good stuff here, JCD. I would add, based on my own experience, that the next step after the apology (as sincere as you can make it sound – you ARE a voice actor, yes?) is to go into repair mode, ie. “What can we do to fix this situation?”. This should go a long way toward making Mr. or Ms. CP’s anger dissipate, as you have now demonstrated that you’re both on the same team, committed to making this project happen in the best possible way.


    • JCDunn February 14, 2013 / 1:44 pm

      Hey Reuven- I like it! Repair mode is super important for making clients understand that you want to work with them, not against them.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  2. J.S. Gilbert February 14, 2013 / 5:18 pm

    Never Complain. Never Explain. Never Apologize.


    • JCDunn February 14, 2013 / 5:38 pm

      Benjamin Jowett would be proud.


  3. dave February 14, 2013 / 9:34 pm

    good piece JC…thanks. Ahhh one more thing to practice. So far, the people I work with and I are usually on the same page. And then remember what we do is judged “subjectively” for some we are super hero’s and to others not so much. it’s best just not to take it personal. But if you’re on the same page with your client, it’s just a matter of tweeking a project. J.S about make a good point too. All you can do is work to get it right for the client. After all, it’s their money until you get paid.


    • JCDunn February 19, 2013 / 10:57 am

      Hey Dave- It’s just part of business. I’m happy to say that I’ve only had one VO client that’s felt fine to unload on my work. We worked through it and I was able to provide what he was looking for. While it’s not any fun to get blasted like they, at least I have a few tools to use to protect myself.


  4. Amy Weis February 16, 2013 / 5:11 am

    “Mr. Crankypants”……says it all! You’re so right; it’s a challenge to remain calm, cool and collected and treat it as a business and NOT a personal attack. Great article!


    • JCDunn February 19, 2013 / 10:57 am

      Hi Amy- I hope that you never have to use the tips from my article, but you’ll be well armed when the time comes.


  5. Kevin Scheuller February 19, 2013 / 10:23 am

    Good post, Chris,
    I’m not entirely sure about that bonus tip. Certainly, I agree with the sentiment but would recommend that, instead of typing out the reply, it may be safer to type it out in a word processing document and then deleting that document. It is always possible to accidentally send the darn thing if you draft a reply. The advice is good, though, and it is similar to an apocryphal story told of Abraham Lincoln’s advice to a cabinet member about writing a scathing letter to someone and then tossing it into the fire in the fireplace after letting off some steam by writing the letter.


    • JCDunn February 19, 2013 / 11:08 am

      Hi Kevin- Thanks for stopping by and reading my article.

      It’s a good thing that we’re like thinkers because I agree with the remark of writing the response using a word processing document. In my opinion, it’s not as immediate as doing it in e-mail. In my article I made sure to include…

      “Create a new message and type away.”

      There maybe folks who overlooked that part. It doesn’t matter because now they have two avenues to choose from. Reply with a new message or type out the message in a word processing app. Thanks!


  6. stellarvoice February 19, 2013 / 1:41 pm

    Oops! I didn’t catch the “create a new message” part in your post. Yeah, it’s fun to vent frustrations as long as you don’t shoot yourself in the foot in the process.


    • JCDunn February 19, 2013 / 2:24 pm

      Hmm… maybe I need to go with a larger font.? 😉

      No worries!


    • JCDunn February 20, 2013 / 4:48 pm

      You bet! Thanks for checking out the post.


  7. Denise Chamberlain February 21, 2013 / 9:14 am

    Thanks so much for your post and advice, especially about not taking it personally. HUGE factor to consider. I am reminded of “The Four Agreements” by Don Ruiz: 1. Let your word be impeccable, 2. Don’t Assume, 3. Don’t take anything Personally, and 4. Always do your best. Simple, but it takes introspection and practice to dissolve the ego to realize the “bigger picture”. For me, the “bigger picture” is service to others. I’ve found the best results and the most Grace occurs when it’s not about me.


    • JCDunn February 21, 2013 / 9:58 am

      I worked at a Ma and Pa video store many moons ago, and the owner observed me making a total mess out of signing somebody up for a membership. After I was done and the customer left, the owner came to me and said KISS. After I got over the shock of thinking he was asking for a kiss, he explained: Keep It Simple Stupid. Keep your customer’s interest in mind when working with them. They all have a want. Satisfy it in the most uncomplicated way possible.

      I appreciate simple and Don Ruiz’s agreements are spot and easy to keep in mind.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!


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