Five tips for dealing with difficult client emails
Receiving an abrupt or angry email from a client is never nice, so it’s understandable that this would cause stress and worry. When I first set out in business, I certainly struggled to set boundaries. I often undercharged or ended up 'tweaking' websites for free, because I couldn't say no.
I also wasted hours agonising over how to respond to difficult emails, and I found it difficult to explain the value of the service I was providing. However, in 2019 I retrained as a copywriter and, when I learned the skills needed to write effective sales copy, EVERYTHING changed.
With that in mind, here are my five tips for dealing with difficult client emails.
Tip 1. Step away from your computer screen
Something I’ve learnt during my time as a copywriter is how our emotions seep into everything we write. For example, when I’m writing for a client who needs an empathetic tone (usually coaches and mentors), I need to get myself into the headspace where I can visualise the reader and feel their struggle.
Equally, if I’m writing for a more upbeat brand, I might listen to music before I write. And when I’ve written web copy for therapists, I’ve turned on my luxury essential-oil diffuser— there’s nothing like the smell of high-end spa to get creativity going.
The point I’m making is, if you’re angry, it WILL come through in your writing, so never respond to difficult emails while you’re still upset. Instead, step away from the computer screen, go for a walk, distract yourself. When you come back to respond, you’ll see things from a different perspective.
Tip 2. See the conflict from your client’s perspective
You never really know what might be going on in someone else’s life, so it’s really best for everyone if you don’t take their rude, abrupt or angry email personally. Obviously, this depends on the content of the email, but if you try to see things from their perspective, it’s going to make you feel better in the long run.
Equally, don’t assume you know what they're thinking; instead, perhaps ask yourself if you could be partly to blame for the misunderstanding. I know it’s hard to accept responsibility, but the truth is, we all make mistakes. It’s how we put them right that counts.
Tip 3. Remove emotion from your response
As a passionate creative, it can really hurt to be on the receiving end of negative feedback, especially if it’s uncalled for or just plain wrong. But, I promise, it won’t do any good to send a client a response that’s full of either anger or hurt feelings. Read through your response and take out any emotion; leave only the facts.
In almost every case, you’ll get a much better response when you handle difficult situations professionally. I rarely have to deal with negativity these days but, if I do, I try to respond in a robot fashion, only reciting the facts—think high-end department-store customer service. There’s a reason why good customer service professionals stay calm in any situation.
Tip 4. Remove filler words
Words like “just”, “but”, “should”, “I feel” and “I think” all weaken your message and, while the previous tips above have centred around not giving an emotive response, we still want to remain assertive with our needs. Notice the difference between these two sentences:
“I just feel like you should have all of your content ready now.”
“All of the content must be ready by Tuesday.”
The first sentence is weak and unclear; the second is clear, confident and assertive.
Tip 5. Read your testimonials and positive feedback before you write your response.
A great way to get yourself back into a positive and confident state of mind before you respond to an email is by reading all of the lovely things most of your clients say about you. This also helps to get things in perspective, so you don’t take things personally. Maybe your client had a bad day and is taking things out on you, or maybe they didn’t fully understand what was expected of them. Either way, it might not be anything you’ve done at all.
We all get difficult clients from time to time. One thing I know for sure is that most people don’t want to cause trouble, and most problems can be resolved with clear communication.
That’s why I’ve recently created a safe space for web designers to share their problems and get advice on how to handle tricky situations. Hosted by me – Hannah Gibson, The Website Copywriter – my free group for web designers is here for you. Request access here.