No matter how good you are with your clients, no matter how much you prioritize client service, it’s inevitable: you WILL have angry clients. Angry clients are a fact of doing business but in the legal profession, it comes with the territory.
Here’s another thing to consider: while public perception of lawyers as being adversarial and conflict-driven is a common stereotype, not all lawyers enjoy conflict. And few enjoy conflict in the realm of customer service!
When you weigh these two considerations, it’s not surprising that dealing with angry clients can be challenging for attorneys. It doesn’t need to be agonizing, though. With a few simple steps, you can set yourself up for success.
Tip #1: Know how to identify unhappy (i.e, not yet angry)
If you had the option of resolving a conflict before it reached a boiling point or dealing with it after it overflowed, you’d choose the former, right?
Heading off problems with clients has in and of itself is a calming action. To do this, you need to read between the lines a little bit.
Pay attention to your client’s demeanor, body language, and tone of voice. Encourage them to express their concerns and issues candidly with you.
You can remind them that you care deeply about their success, but you’re not a mind reader. Openness and honesty in communication can be a tonic against bad feelings.
Tip #2: Stay calm (but it’s okay to set boundaries)
Even if you manage to encourage all clients to be direct about how they’re feeling, it’s not a 100 percent solution. You will still get clients that get angry. You need to have a strategy for dealing with that anger and channeling it in a productive way.
The first step is to remain as calm as possible. Let the client vent off their steam about their issues. Very often, individuals who are angry first and foremost want to be heard. So hear them and listen. Avoid being defensive verbally or with your body language. Though you may feel attacked, this isn’t about you.
However, prioritizing listening and staying calm doesn’t mean you have to endure endless abuse. (Or any abuse at all!)
If the client begins to insult you or a staff member, use profane language, or threaten, you are within your rights to end the conversation. A simple, “I recognize that you’re angry but I’m not comfortable continuing this conversation right now” is a fine way to end the conversation. And make sure to document any escalations in temper for later record.
Tip #3: Focus on solutions
As a lawyer, you’re naturally solution-oriented. This situation shouldn’t be any different. The only difference is that you might have to do a bit of digging to find out what the root of the problem is. Yes, they might be grumbling about, for example, a large bill but what is it that upset them.
Was it poor communication? Misunderstanding billing practices?
It’s also possible that external factors are playing in. Perhaps they’re on edge because of problems at home, health issues, or challenges at work. Regardless, taking the time to see the whole picture can help you come up with a solution that’s tailored to their problem.
Tip #4: It’s okay to apologize
We don’t act like it, but “apology” isn’t a four-letter word. Not in the dictionary and not in life.
An apology – a sincere, humble apology – is an important step towards resolution. If you’re clearly in the wrong, you should always lead with “I’m sorry.” If you’re not at fault, it’s still good to apologize for the bad experience or if they’re disappointed with services.
Tip #5: Train (and support) your staff
Dealing with angry customers will never fall solely on your shoulders. Support staff is going to be right there with you, fielding irate phone calls and directing frustrated emails. Do they have the tools to handle these situations graciously and without undue duress one their part?
It’s incumbent on you to make sure that they do – and that you have their backs. Consider investing in customer service training for your entire team. While it might sound basic, it can be truly transformative for everyone involved. (Even you.)
Tip #6: Follow up
You’ve hashed out the issue and come to a resolution with your client. Good work! But now you have to deliver.
To make sure results are delivered, stay on top of the situation. Not seeing this through is like reaching the finish line and then stopping before you cross it.
Handling angry clients can seem intimidating but when you learn (and practice) the skills needed, they can turn from dreaded situations into opportunities to build and improve your services.
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