When You Mishandle Upset Clients, You’ll Lose in the Long-Run

Do you want your business to grow?

Christine Rich
The Startup
10 min readDec 16, 2017


I see this repeatedly with business people, from upstarts to decades-old managers and executives. They don’t understand the angry/upset client. They don’t have a clue.

And because you don’t have a clue, you and your business miss out on enormous growth.

Not potential growth. Growth.

Most of the customer service advice floating about, including, “You may have to fire your client you know…” makes you weak entrepreneurs and executives. That advice serves to protect you from your fears. You’ll also lose clients left and right.

To make headway, you have to drop your defensive state and deal with your upset client.

Vulnerability really means to be strong and secure enough within yourself that you are able to walk outside without your armor on. You are able to show up in life as just you. That is genuine strength and courage. Armor may look tough, but all it does is mask insecurity and fear.
Alaric Hutchinson

If you’re going to be in business, and you want to grow in business, you must grow as a human in the business.

Be prepared for personal growing pains. Learn to embrace them.

Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. –Susan David

Business Whining

Like many things in life, we try to ignore irritants we don’t want to make the time to deal with. Annoyances interfere with the big plans, our goals. Plus, we’re busy.

We resort to immature thinking and hope problem clients go away. On their own.

Then when clients part ways with us, we whine about lost income.

We complain. Why couldn’t the client have been better?

We whine some more. I’ve got ten million things to do and this one sorry client has ruined my week.

Guess what?

Clients don’t have to stay in their lane. Here’s a concept: Clients are paying you.

The adage, “the customer is right” morphed into, “sometimes the client is right” to the trend, “life is too short, get rid of bad clients and replace them.”

Not so fast.

You may label a client as bad because of your own triggered emotional angst. It’s difficult to sustain a business and apply that blanket mentality to paying customers — unless you want to go out of business.

No matter how big you are in your industry, the customer pays your paycheck.

Amazon took over Whole Foods. The customers of Whole Foods are complaining now about the poor produce quality and lack thereof. If Amazon doesn’t listen and act, even the behemoth will have trouble.

Just like in dating, people have choices.

But there is a pearl of growth inside the angry client. Because to sustain a thriving business, you must grow personally, so, don’t throw away the gift of the upset client. You’ll stagnate under the guise of your desire for peace.

Why Do We Avoid Dealing with Problem Clients?

We’re raised in a culture that wants to avoid confrontation. Confrontation equates to fear of someone being mad at us and letting us know that in no uncertain terms. You’ll find plenty of friends who will tell you to lose the client. Losing the client is a losing strategy.

When presented with an irate client, men and women have some gender-conditioned knee-jerk ways of handling it.

Men most often will blame the client in some way (directly or in their mind) and then set about firing or ignoring the client to avoid confrontation.

Women tend to discuss and strategize and take the angry client’s energy personally and spend days worrying about outcomes. The client gets mishandled.

Even with conflict resolution and customer satisfaction training, those anemic applications pacify your client, but they don’t mature you, create a loyal fan and therefore, don’t grow your business.

Fear robs you of your freedom to make the right choice in life that can bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. On the other side of fear, lies freedom. If you want to grow, you need to be brave and take risks. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. ― Roy T. Bennett

“Fire the Client” is Myopic Thinking

Any advice in business for you to fire or ignore the client, will train you into a dangerous mindset of you vs. clients. That’s a sure-fire way to either go out of business or stall growth.

This fire them or ignore them advice gets applied carte blanche to any client who becomes annoying.

Part of your growth is to make distinctions.

Here Are the Two Types of Clients You Need to Fire:

  1. The ones who don’t pay their bill.
  2. Clients you need to get a restraining order against.

Other than that, you need to expand your tolerance level. It will make you a better business person. You’ll develop understanding, compassion, insight and inspiration.

Instead, our deep-seated issues boil up at the thought we weren’t appreciated. Or that someone thinks poorly of us or our business. We go into a survival to get rid of the source of complaint — the client. That’s a bad business model.

Distinguish between you being triggered into protection mode vs. having a business.

If you’re a start-up, remember this. In business you get the whole enchilada.

Your Growth Vis a Vis Your Angry Clients

The side bonus of being in business is personal growth. We never grow in a recliner eating bonbons watching The Price is Right. We grow from the things that don’t go our way and an upset client is personal growth nirvana.

The faster you embrace this, the quicker you turn around the story you tell yourself when a client kicks your tires.

When things do not go your way, remember that every challenge — every adversity — contains within it the seeds of opportunity and growth. ―Roy T. Bennett

Here’s what you need to understand: Everyone thinks of themselves first.

Especially your client.

Your job as a business owner, is to think with them and their needs first.

Deal with Problems When They Are Fresh

In business, you can handle the irate customer better within 24 hours, then to allow them to harbor resentment over several days. Their anger nearly solidifies becoming an immovable block you won’t be able to penetrate.

Remember, despite your best efforts to provide amazing service, sometimes clients will get upset. That is the nature of being in business.

The next distinction is to get curious about their upset.

A Client Complaint Inherently Holds One of These Issues

1. They had an expectation of your business that wasn’t fulfilled. You either failed them or their expectation was outside of your mission. If your business failed the client, quickstep and make it right with a sincere apology and a goodwill bonus. And most of all, let them vent. And listen for as long as it takes. Don’t make an arbitrary, “Hey, I offered a resolution and most people wouldn’t be on the phone still listening to you.” That is your discomfort with confrontation and personalization talking.

If their expectation was beyond the scope of your business, call or meet with them and LISTEN. Don’t client shame them. Listen and then, here’s the key, recap what you heard. Don’t launch into fixing it, recap first. Because if triggered, you may do more damage by shaming them or throwing out a solution they don’t want.

Then, work on a resolution. And give them bonus perks even if you don’t have to. You’ll have a fan for life, and no, they won’t expect it every week.

Take responsibility for everything that goes wrong. –Seth Godin

If the issue is half them/half your business failing, treat it as though it’s all your failing. You waste more time trying to be right. Wanting to be right is anti-personal growth.

2. They were having a bad day and took it out on you/your business. Talk with them — 24 later after they’ve cooled off — and show compassion. Listen. Recap. Show more compassion. Yes, it takes time away from your task list. But do you want a customer or a to-do list?

Your attention to things that you think they do that keeps you from your thriving is, in fact, what keeps you from your thriving… It is not what they do to you; it’s what you do to you in fear of what you think that they will do to you. –Abraham Hicks

Clients having a bad day have invisible M-16s fully loaded and aimed at your eyeballs. Remember, they are thinking of themselves. They are triggered.

The trigger may not have a thing to do with your business. And guess what? They are now in your lane and you must deal with it.

I had a single-mom client once who exploded in a public meltdown yelling and screaming. After talking with her the next day, I discovered that she was overwhelmed with her young children and felt lonely. Once I connected with that, she calmed right down, owned her issues and became a raving fan. The experience taught me compassion for future incidents.

Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul? ― John Keats

Nobody likes dealing with problems. And that is a problem in business.

3. They misunderstood. They got confused, didn’t read the fine print, got you mixed up with the last business, whatever. This is the price of being in business. You can’t expect the client to be the employee and know every detail of your business. That thinking puts you out of business.

You can’t let their cluelessness be grounds for their dismissal. Again, all relationships have some give and take, highs and lows.

Your business-leader job is to lead, not to take the low road and show them the door. Keep your emotions in check.

Here’s the Truth About Upset Clients

There are two camps of angry clients. One wants to find a way to stay. The other is leaving and there’s nothing to do to get them back.

The Client Who Wants to Stay with Your Business

If a client is angry (demonstrably so) and they let you know it, this is good news. They are sharing their anger and complaints, but in truth, despite the ROAR, they want to stay with you. Angry clients will fight for what is right and that includes you and your business. They are giving you a chance to fix things or discuss.

I’ve only seen one banker, Steve, who was an absolute master at turning any mad raving customers into loyal fans. Every other business leader I’ve witnessed thinks they are handling the upset client and come close, but fall short.

So much of our society tells you to rack up reasons to boot complaining clients to the curb and that is stupid. You’re in business to serve your clients; not serve the ones who don’t ruffle your feathers.

The banker listened to people as if he had all day. He sided with the complainer. He followed up to make sure their solution system was working. The bank manager never gave off he was plying them with a Band-Aid solution to make them go away. Or worse, noting that the client’s displeasure may be the tip of the iceberg of future trouble.

That is where most other business people fail. They offer a solution but with the energy they’re taking notes for the next provocation. Then they can justify telling you not to let the door hit you on your way out.

The bank manager enjoyed hearing complaints as it was an opportunity to improve. He’s a genuinely nice person.

When you master this skill, you’ll look forward to the insight of the next upset customer and turning them into a loyal fan.

The Client Who Wants to Leave Your Business

If a client slips off without a good-bye, they are gone. They won’t ever return phone calls or reply to your emails. They aren’t coming back.

Why? They, felt more of a connection elsewhere that would better serve their needs. Remember, everybody thinks of themselves first.

Your former client might have found better proximity, ease, money savings, communication, or more attention by going elsewhere. It could have been needing different attention.

It does not mean they will get better service elsewhere.

The client might have feared being talked out of their decision by you.

These are the clients who you must let go of emotionally. Yes, you can choose to feel sadness or loss, but try this growth-inspiring approach instead. Look at their departure as the best plan. There is something better in store for them and you. Accept that it happened for their growth and yours. Like a child going off to college.

They were served by you, got what they needed and now they have their journey — and you have yours.

Only clients who complain want to stay.


All customers, and especially the upset ones, hold the growth potential for you to become a leader in business.

Embrace the interaction as a compassionate expansion for yourself and growth for your business. Not always, but often, the complaints hold new ideas for your business to grow.

And that’s what you want, correct?

So, the next time you hear, “Mr. Jones is angry with what we delivered,” get excited and start conversing with Mr. Jones.

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For more: https://www.christinerichclarity.com/

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