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A Coach’s Guide to Dealing with Difficult Clients

A Coach’s Guide to Dealing with Difficult Clients

Can you spot a displeased client and keep the situation from escalating? Learn to mend the relationships with our guide to dealing with difficult clients.

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Coaching is incredibly rewarding, but it’s not always easy. 

Most of the time, clients are lovely to work with — but everyone has bad days. Those who seek out a coach may be feeling down or struggling to cope with a difficult situation, which can make them emotionally volatile. Others may have unreasonable expectations about what they can accomplish by working with you and become frustrated with themselves (or you) if they aren’t advancing toward their goals as quickly as they’d expected. These factors can lead to complicated interactions with clients. 

Every coach will encounter a tricky customer relationship in their career. Having a “bad client” isn’t a reflection of your work, but how you handle the situation demonstrates your values as a professional 

This guide to dealing with difficult clients outlines how to treat customers in even the most trying scenarios. Strap in — you’ve got this. 

How to spot a difficult client

As business owners, coaches are bound to deal with angry customers at some point. These clients demand more attention than others, and they may not act like their best selves when expressing their needs. They may also turn their problems onto their coach, devalue their services, or refuse to pay. It’s important to identify displeased clients and find a solution before the situation escalates to that point.

Not sure how to spot an upset client? There are several tell-tale signs that indicate a coach-client relationship is off. Here are a few: 

  • They challenge your pricing. Clients who don’t think your work is worth your set prices are devaluing your expertise. You can weed out potentially difficult people by sticking to your rates and knowing your worth. 
  • They ignore your boundaries: It’s a red flag if a client starts to disrespect your time and space. Watch out for clients who call you outside of business hours, reschedule at the last minute, or don’t hold themselves to the rules of the space you use for your sessions (even if virtual ones). 
  • They communicate poorly: Coaching is a conversation. While you may do more listening than talking as you get to know your client, it’s also important to recognize when your client is only talking and not receptive to your feedback. If a client doesn’t hold space for your guidance, they’ll find themselves disappointed when they don’t get what they’d hoped out of the coaching experience — even if it’s because they haven’t been paying attention. 

How to handle upset customers

You know how to spot them — now, let’s talk about how to handle difficult customers. In some cases, you’ll remedy the relationship quickly, especially if you implement the following tactics for conflict resolution. 

  • Understand a challenging client’s pain points: We’ve all heard the adage “hurt people hurt people,” and there’s truth to it. Problematic clients may lash out against your program because they’re unhappy with their progress. Perhaps they simply have a complaint they’ve been keeping quiet or are taking other frustrations out on you. 

Ask what the client is feeling and try to understand what isn’t working for them. Listen before you come up with a response and follow up as you implement a plan to tackle the issue.

  • Respond to complaints quickly: Nothing makes a situation escalate from bad to worse like ignoring a customer’s complaint.

If a client lets you know they’re upset, de-escalate the situation by responding as quickly as possible and trying to get to the bottom of their concerns. Work on a plan to address what’s upsetting them and check in to see if it feels like a satisfactory solution for everyone.

  • Be proactive: Don’t let a positive client relationship sour. You can catch issues before they arise by asking for feedback throughout the coaching program. 

If a problem does manifest, ensure your client understands the action plan you’ll use to solve it. Have a backup plan in case the client doesn’t like the proposed solution, and ask them for any ideas they may have. 

  • Don’t take it personally: We know this can be tough, but remember that complaints aren’t about your character. A client’s complaint addresses an issue they see with your services and business. 

If the issue is correctable, you have the opportunity to better yourself as a coach. If the complaint feels irreconcilable, the coach-client relationship might just be a bad fit — which is bound to happen occasionally. 

  • Consider a refund: Offering a refund to a dissatisfied client is a quick way to deescalate a bad situation. We don’t recommend doing this all the time as you don’t want to feel taken advantage of. But providing a refund in a situation where there’s no other fix for an individual’s disappointment can prove valuable. They may appreciate your generosity and try another session. At the very least, perhaps they’ll still speak positively about your services. 

Treat refunds as part of the cost of doing business, considering them when creating a budget and outlining short and long-term financial goals. 

Maintaining positive relationships with demanding clients

Some clients are more complicated than others, and you can usually tell a client will be more demanding right from the start. In many cases, you can still have a good working relationship with a challenging client if you stick to the following practices. 

  • Set expectations and rules upfront. Boundaries save relationships. While limits may seem restrictive, they actually foster clear expectations. Make sure the client understands the scope of your services, what results they can expect to see and when, and any rules you have for communication in and outside of sessions. 
  • Make a written agreement. Put your rules and expectations in writing and read them over with your client. This should help you avoid miscommunications and make it easier to reiterate boundaries if a problem arises. 
  • Invite clear communication. Remind your client from the start that sessions are safe spaces where they can freely express themselves. Show them how well you listen by remaining attentive to clients’ concerns and soliciting regular feedback. 
  • Say “no.” Sometimes, taking a step back is okay. Try to intervene in difficult situations with a level head and grace, but if an angry client won’t relent, is attacking you personally, or negatively impacts your mental health, suggest ending the relationship. These are difficult but necessary conversations that prioritize your wellness.

Manage clients with Practice

Whether a client is agreeable or difficult, dropping the ball in the coach-client relationship is a surefire way to sour their customer experience. Missing messages, losing track of contact information, or failing to make an appointment will make just about anyone unhappy. 

Practice’s client management software is specifically designed to help coaches stay on top of every aspect of the client journey. You can keep in touch with clients in a secure setting, manage your calendar and billing, and solicit client feedback all in one place — that way nothing slips through the cracks. Try our software and take your coaching business to the next level.

Free coaching contract templates

We worked with our lawyers to create coaching contract templates, free for any coach to use. Plus, a couple of sample agreements.

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