When you’re running a home service business, dealing with difficult customers comes with the territory.
Whether they’re upset, unresponsive, or making unreasonable demands, you could be facing a difficult customer situation for a number of reasons. But how do you handle difficult customers when every situation has a different way to solve it?
We’ll show you how to handle difficult customers in a professional and confident way so you can get back to work and get paid.
Learn how to deal with difficult clients in these situations:
1. The Indecisive Customer
This customer asks for something, but once you’ve done it, they want it done differently. Or, they can’t make up their mind right from the start, so they won’t even approve the quote.
Because this type of customer keeps asking you to redo work, answer questions, or change a quote, they usually mean more work and less profit for you.
They aren’t necessarily bad people, just hard to work with. So it might be worth trying to see if you can save the relationship.
“For me, good customer service is trying to work through issues with clients and retain that customer versus binning them at the first sign of trouble.”
—Bertie Lynn, Premier Lawns
- Get clear on the scope of the work. Ask the client to fill in a detailed work request, then create a comprehensive quote with images of what they’ll be getting and descriptive line items.
- For indecisive clients, limit upsells and add-ons to only what’s necessary. Show your expertise by making firm recommendations. Sometimes, this client needs reassurance more than anything.
- Ask the client to sign off on the quote so you have a record of what they asked for.
- Make sure you completely understand the changes they want and why. Do they actually want you to redo the work, or would a small adjustment meet their goals?
- Charge the customer if their changes take extra time or materials.
Here's an example of how to deal with indecisive customers:
“I’m sorry to hear that you don’t like your new bushes in their location near the patio. When we were planning the project, that was the location you asked for—did something change? In any case, I’m happy to replant them closer to the aspen tree. But because replanting wasn’t part of our original agreement, we consider it a separate job. Here’s the quote for the extra work.”
2. The Micromanaging Customer
A micromanager watches your work like a hawk, critiquing everything from your tools to your technique. In some cases, they act like they could do the job better than you.
This client might also want you to redo your work over and over until you get it “right.” That can be a problem if your time and their budget won’t support what they’re looking for.
READ MORE: Learn how to fire a problem client (nicely)
Usually it’s best to avoid a micromanager altogether, but you might not realize you’re working with one until they’ve already signed the quote.
The best method of dealing with difficult customers like this is to show your expertise, set firm boundaries, and always charge for extra work.
“Don’t be scared to educate your clients. I break down all the work I’m going to do, step by step. If the customer wants to get the job done themselves, they can do it. I’m not scared of losing business.”
—Stacey (SEF) Flanagan, SEF the Lawn Surgeon
- Learn to spot critical customers. If a customer has worked with several companies because “nobody does it right,” chances are they’re the real problem.
- When you run into a micromanager, find out what’s behind their negative attitude (like a bad past experience, or frustration about how much work there is).
- If the customer doesn’t trust you to do your job, finish the project and let them find another company they can trust.
Here's an example of how to deal with micromanaging customers:
“I know you’re asking me to work this way because you’re worried about me getting paint on the ceiling. I have the right tools and a steady hand, so that won’t happen. And even on the off chance it did, I know several ways to remove any splatter without damaging the ceiling. I’m good at what I do and I’m confident you’ll like how the room looks when I’m finished.”
3. The Overdue Customer
It’s a big red flag if a client isn’t paying you on time—or won’t pay you at all.
Maybe the customer is a little tight on cash right now, or maybe they’re dealing with personal issues that are pushing your invoice to the back of their minds.
Sometimes you can manage an overdue customer with careful handling and gentle reminding. That said, try to fix the situation before it becomes a bigger problem that affects your business.
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“I’m very patient and give the client the opportunity to be a better client. Sometimes a client is just going through a rough patch.”
—Bobi Beverly, Your Helping Hands Cleaners
Here's an example of how to deal with overdue customers:
“Just as a reminder, we haven’t received payment from you for two months now. You’ll need to pay the outstanding amount through our client hub before we can clean your pool again.”
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4. The Deal-Hunting Customer
This client wants to know where every penny of their budget is going—and tries to negotiate with you on all of it.
They don’t see why you can’t add another task or two to the job, since you’re already on site. And they don’t want to pay for your extra time, either, since “it’ll just take a few minutes.”
This type of difficult customer doesn’t see the value in your work. It’s up to you to show them that value, and to clearly tell them what you will and won’t do.
“Protecting your image and your reputation is of the utmost importance. We live in the world of social media. So you’ve got to handle things gingerly.”
—Mitchell Gordy, Mitchell Landscaping LLC
- Send detailed quotes with pricing broken down by line item.
- Educate your client on your certifications, training, and expertise. They may relax if they understand the value of your work.
- Only do extra work if you’re getting paid for it. The customer might call this nickel-and-diming, but you need to be paid fairly for your work, and free time adds up.
- If you ever decide to do a small task for free, make sure they know it’s a one-time thing.
Here's an example of how to deal with deal-hunting customers:
“Our team only has two hours to clean your home for each visit. Cleaning the oven would take that entire time, and we already have our regular list of tasks to complete.
“If you want to add oven cleaning to the next appointment, we’ll need to either have a longer appointment or add a fourth person to the crew who’s responsible for the oven. Here’s what each of those options will cost.”
5. The Impatient Customer
Have you ever heard the phrase “poor planning on your part doesn’t mean an emergency on mine”? This client hasn’t.
They don’t have a reasonable idea of how long it takes to finish a job. Or they want to change the agreed-on deadline because something’s come up or they don’t want to wait.
They need a little education, and unfortunately, you’re the one who has to provide it.
“Bad customers, like bad team members, spread through your company and culture. Your goal is always to protect that culture.”
—Mike Feliciano, Bee Green Lawn Care
- Agree on a timeline, include it in your quote, and remind them of it if needed.
- Don’t put your employees and other customer relationships at risk to keep this customer happy.
- Accommodate them if it’s reasonable, but add any extra costs to your invoice.
- If there are delays and you’re responsible, own up to it and make it right.
Here's an example of how to deal with impatient customers:
“I understand that you want your yard fully landscaped for your barbecue tomorrow. We already talked about how long the job would take. We’re still on track to finish the work on Friday. We have three more trees to plant, we need to lay down bricks for the patio, and we have to fill the flowerbeds with the washed rock.
“All of these tasks take time, but we’ll do our best to make sure you’re happy with how it all looks at the end and that it’ll be great for other events in the future. If you’d like, we can move our materials to one side this afternoon and cover them with a tarp so they don’t get in the way during your barbecue. Would that work for you?”
6. The Attached Customer
Your business can’t survive with just one client, but this customer doesn’t know that. They believe they’re the most important person on your client list—and they act like it.
They call and message you at all hours, want you to solve their problems right away, and get upset when you don’t respond immediately.
If the money is good and you don’t mind having them as a customer, there are a few ways to keep them around while giving yourself a little distance.
“I wait a long time before firing a client because I want to be sure they’re worth firing and I’m not just being lazy. There have been a handful of clients I wanted to fire but I didn’t and it forced us to be better.”
—Adam Sylvester, Charlottesville Gutter Pros
- If the client is acting needy because they are anxious about the project, acknowledge their worries and concerns.
- Schedule a conversation for a later time when you can give them more attention.
- Tell the customer what you’re going to do and when, and get them to sign off on the schedule.
- If it becomes too much and it feels appropriate, charge them for consulting time.
- Remind them that they aren’t your only customer. It’s not unreasonable—they should already know and respect that!
Here's an example of how to deal with attached customers:
“Thanks for sending me the link to your inspiration board on Pinterest. I’m on another job right now, but I’m happy to talk more about lighting fixtures for the kitchen remodel at our check-in on Tuesday.”
7. The Angry Customer
If you have an angry customer on your hands, they might have a good reason for it. But they could just as easily be the type of person who’s impossible to please.
Knowing how to deal with angry customers can be challenging whether you want to keep them or not. Your business’s reputation might be on the line, so tread carefully and follow these steps.
“In most situations, there is a solution to salvage the relationship. It isn’t easy, especially when dealing with the chronically unreasonable, but good relationships are never easy.”
—Jeff DiGiuseppe, Blue Water Pool Service
- Talk to your angry customer in person, if you can, or over the phone.
- Stay calm, but don’t tell the customer to calm down. (That doesn’t work on anybody.)
- Listen and empathize. Often they’ll be less frustrated when you show you know why they’re upset.
- Work with them to come up with possible solutions.
- Instead of focusing on what you or the customer should have done differently, think about what you can do to move forward together.
- Take a breather afterwards. Don’t carry tension into your next job.
Here's an example of how to deal with angry customers:
“I’m hearing that you’re upset that we cracked one of the tiles in your new bathroom. I know how frustrating it is because that tile model has been out of stock for months.
“Right now, let’s find a way to repair and cover the crack so there’s no further damage and you can continue using your bathroom. I’ve placed an order for a new tile, and I’ll cover the cost of buying and installing it when it’s back in stock.”
These examples of dealing with difficult customers can help you write your own scripts for any difficult customer situation. Remember, the goal is to solve the problem together, not to be right—just like any relationship.
The goal is to turn a difficult customer into a good one, but that isn’t always possible. Don’t be afraid to fire a problem client and make room for one who respects you and wants to help your business succeed.
By dealing with difficult customers carefully and working with them to find the right answer, you won’t just make your business money. You’ll also make loyal customers for life.
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