How To Deal With Stressful Clients 101

Anti-Stress Action Plan: Stressful Clients

Sure, you adore your clients, but they can be a tremendous source of stress. Difficult customers eat up tons of time without much return, and can turn your company inside-out if you aren’t prepared.

A couple of our contributing authors/specialists put together this action plan to help you get through the thick of it and navigate those tense situations with a bit more ease. In time, your business plan will naturally evolve to include dealing with stressors — but for now, this is a great place to start. Enjoy!

PART 1: Recognition & Resolution

We need to be able to recognize stress-causing customers and prepare ways to promptly deal with them before they can take advantage of our empathetic natures — which many of them will without hesitation. Let’s take a look at some of the most unpleasant customer personalities:

Unhappy Customers: These folks literally just enjoy complaining, loudly, if they think it’ll get them the attention they crave. It gives them pleasure to protest to anyone who’ll listen, whether about things that don’t matter or that they don’t understand. No matter what you do, they’ll find a reason to gripe.

Demanding Customers: We’re talking about the kind of people who are never satisfied. They want more and they want it now– they’ll even insist on features/services/products that are outside the scope of your business. To them it doesn’t matter, you should give it to them…or else!

Annoying Customers: These people will call, email, and hit up your live chat constantly, then disregard your advice and complain when disaster strikes. Oh, and do they think they should pay a dime for gobbling up your valuable time? Nope.

Cheap Customers: They’ll always want more for less, and less, and less. Regardless of what you offer them, it’s going to be too expensive. They’re always hunting for a deal, and don’t care if it comes at your expense.

Resolution: Try Not to Burn Bridges

In general, cutting out clients that are more trouble than they’re worth is a good business practice, especially when you’re working with moderate to high volumes of people. The question is, how can you go about it without burning any bridges or making your brand look bad in the process?

Now, there are several ways to go about this, but the most important thing to remember is to keep it professional — don’t sink down to their level. Be polite, bite your lip, and don’t let them know how angry you are.

Option 1. Fire Them (Nicely)

Give them plenty of notice, and recommend other businesses that can provide the service they need. Keep correspondence short and sweet. You don’t have to justify why you made this decision, but you can throw them a bone by adding that having them as a client doesn’t work with your business model at this time. Something along these lines:

Tactful Client Dismissal Letter:

Mr. Jones,

My team and I have decided it would be best if we didn’t renew our contract with you for the next year. While we appreciate the opportunity to work with you, [Business Name] is moving toward a more automated model which means we won’t be able to handle your account the way you want or expect. That being said, I’ll recommend three options we believe might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Kind Regards.

Option 2. Be Super-Specific

This is something you should do BEFORE you get entangled with problematic clients. Put your FAQs and specifications on your company website and in client contracts. Consider the scope of your job and your company and do everything you can to spell out the specifics. This will dramatically reduce the chance of any surprises for your customers.

Specifics include:

  • Standard Price
  • Possible Additional Prices
  • Deadlines
  • Duties
  • Job Specifications
  • Expectations (Theirs & Yours)
  • Timeframe
  • Your Work Process – Start to Finish
  • Your Guarantee

Have these informational assets in place so you can respond promptly to anyone who asks about them. And if you don’t have a specific policy, create one today!

Option 3. Raise Your Prices

Increasing your prices is one of the easiest ways to a) get rid of stressful clients and b) ward off time-wasters. As consumers we know this intuitively, but somehow we forget it when we put on our “Business Owner” hats.

Send notices to your more stressful clients about your upcoming rate change and watch as many inevitably bail. Again, be specific but remember you don’t have to provide a justification.

Either your troublesome customers will go somewhere else or they’ll agree to the rate change, and either way it’s a win in most cases. At least if they’re paying more, you’ll feel better about having to deal with them.

Too Much Stress Hurts Your Business

Most people are either going to inspire you and uplift your day (energy-givers) or drain you and crush your spirits (energy-takers), so choose wisely who you lavish with your business-attention. When you’re self-employed and in need customers, you’re willing to put up with a decent amount of negativity. You’re probably unsure if you’ll find more (or better) customers, or be able to pay the rent.

But in the face of client-negativity, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much stress does this client bring to my life?
  • How much time do I devote to working for, thinking about, or stressing over this client?
  • Would my time be better-spent acquiring new clients or finding ways to better serve other existing clients?

When you understand how time and stress relate to each other and impact your business practice, you can see how important it is to eliminate problem-clients — not only for your well-being, but for the overall health of your business.

Part 2: Understanding Emotional Intelligence

According to recently released AAA Foundation Research, about 80% of American drivers commonly express significant aggression, also known as road rage.

Of this group, an estimated 8 million have been involved in extreme cases of road rage — cases involving drivers leaving their vehicles to confront other drivers, or knowingly ramming other cars. Additionally, two out of three drivers involved in the research agreed that road rage is more of a problem on the roads today than it was just three years ago.


Clearly, everyone is susceptible to road rage, but some people exhibit it much more than others. Why? It all boils down to their level of emotional intelligence (EI), also referred to as Emotional Quotient (EQ). EQ is one’s level of ability to understand, balance, and respond to their emotions. It’s a skill that you can develop and sharpen, just like you can improve your essay-writing, for instance.

Dealing with difficult customers can feel a lot like moderating your own road rage. And no matter how skilled you are at balancing your emotions, there will be times when you just want to freak out — especially in the face of an aggressive, entitled customer. The saying ‘the customer is always right’ may even become your arch-nemesis.

Regardless, it’s important to employ emotional intelligence in heated situations to help calm things down. Try to empathize if you can — you’ve probably been a disgruntled customer once before, complaining to a customer service rep about your perceived injustice.

3 Steps to Better EQ

  1. Pause: If you’re provoked by a customer’s comments or actions, hold off for a moment before rolling up your sleeves and showing them a piece of your mind. If you can pause long enough to calm yourself down, then congratulations, you’re on the right path. This might also give the customer a chance to cool off.
  2. Think the Situation Through: After taking a minute and breathing deeply, think the situation through. Consider how the other party might react, the implication of their reaction, and whether you’re ready to handle it. Is it worth it? Will it matter 10 minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years from now? When someone is being hostile, try to stay relaxed. Life is full of surprises — the situation could transform into an incredible opportunity.
  3. Empathy: Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and consider what might be causing them to act this way. Maybe your product expired or caused someone harm due to improper packaging. Or perhaps it has nothing to do with you — maybe their mom just died, or their car broke down, or their kids are sick. It’s important to understand your customer, and as they see you trying to do so, their anger will often subside. Everyone wants to be heard and understood.

Applying emotional intelligence as a business strategy can be challenging, but when you put it into practice it inevitably develops into a skill. Practice long enough and it might just save your car, your reputation, or the business that you built from scratch!

Meet the Authors

Liesha Petrovich is a small-business owner of 20 years, host of Startup Savant, owner of a karate dojo in Maine, and creator of Microbusiness Essentials. In her free time, she’s with her family and working on a Doctorate in Entrepreneurship.
Terry Meiners is a business owner, passionate writer and co-founder of Resumes Expert. He loves helping people develop a better understanding of business by sharing his own experience.