9 tips for dealing with disgruntled clients

Everyone has a bad day: learn how to deal with angry clients safely and effectively


Have you ever had a bad day? I have, and my guess is, I am not alone. Clients who are reporting to your department may not be having a good day either. Let us face it; no one wants to face an angry client. However, you must consider that this client may be having a bad day and/or may be suffering from issues unbeknownst to you.

I have developed a few techniques for dealing with disgruntled clients. In most cases, it is best to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. These 9 tips can help you resolve a difficult client interaction in most situations.

1. Remember the 3 Cs: Stay cool, calm and collected

The most important factor in defusing a heated conversation between an angry client and a probation officer is you, the professional.
The most important factor in defusing a heated conversation between an angry client and a probation officer is you, the professional. (Photo/CorrectionsOne)

The most important factor in defusing a heated conversation between an angry client and a probation officer is you, the professional. Most angry clients say things they do not really mean. Learn to let it go. If you learn to maintain your professional behavior while dealing with a client who is screaming, you have just earned the respect of everyone in this profession. Do your best to always be professional in any conversation. Remember it is always best to try to resolve the issue at hand, without the need for supervisor intervention.

2. Acknowledge your client’s anger quickly 

Nothing adds more fuel to someone's fire than having their anger ignored. I should know; I spent 24 years resolving customer complaints in a retail setting, so I will be the first to tell you, acknowledgment works. The faster you verbally recognize a client's anger, the better. I love to use the phrase, “I am sorry, let me see what I can do to help you” to defuse an angry client. When you use those words, it triggers a sense of acknowledgment and understanding. Most of the time, the argument tends to defuse once your client acknowledges that you are listing to what he or she has to say. Once the tension in the office drops, it’s easier to complete your visit with a more compliant client. 

3. Be Concerned

Let your client know that you realize just how angry they are and that you are concerned for them. This has a comforting and calming effect on your client by creating a conversation connection. Letting your client know you are taking the situation seriously is a step toward your client's future compliance with court-ordered conditions. Let your client know that you are here to help, but that you are also there to ensure that court-ordered compliance is followed. 

4. Be slow and steady

Be patient and let them get all of their frustrations out. Never try to interrupt or silence a client. In many cases, the best move is to simply listen. They will wind themselves down eventually. Just remember that you are limited in the time allotted for appointments. When the tension begins to settle, let them know that you are limited in time and that you will try to accommodate their needs as best as you can.

5. Ask questions 

The aim of your line of questioning should be to gather information on the specific things that caused the client frustration. Gather as much information about the situation as you can. If a solution can be found, it can be located by getting more details about the situation at hand. 

6. Provide solutions 

This is where you will learn just how reasonable this client is. By the time you get to this step, their anger should have cooled enough to discuss the situation rationally. If it has not, tell them you want to schedule an office visit for another day, in order to come up with some reasonable solutions.

7. Call in backup

If the argument is beginning to escalate, and voices begin to elevate in volume, use the baseball method of requests: ask them to lower their voice a minimum of three times. On the fourth request, you should be dialing your supervisor’s extension. Once a supervisor has entered your office, the volume of the conversation tends to have a dramatic reduction. Once the supervisor has entered the room, your job is to simply wait for instructions. Your supervisor will make the call on the termination of the visit or if law enforcement presence is needed. 

8. Swapping POs should be the last resort

If you and your client just cannot get along, the safest solution to this matter is swapping POs. This should be used as a last resort because the last thing you want is catering to this need on a daily basis. If you make it known that all one has to do is complain long enough to get a new PO, the number of compliant clients will dramatically decrease. Trust me; this was seen in the retail world repeatedly. Where do you think the term “the customer is always right,” came from?

9. Your survival mindset needs to be on point

Our 8-5 shifts can be easily impacted by our clients. In my training classes, I always take the time to tell those in attendance we, as officers, must always be proactive with our safety, and we must never forget, we are in the business of rehabilitating criminals. The client on the other side of our desk is very capable of committing a crime. Officers should always keep that in mind. If we take the time to maintain our professional attitude, we will always be the winner in our profession.

Remember, we are each other's greatest teachers.

Author's note: I would like to thank my Executive Director, Faustino "Tino" Lopez, for allowing me the opportunity to submit this article for publication. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Leo Perez, Hidalgo County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, 3100 S. Bus Hwy 281 Edinburg Texas 78539; e-mail: leo.perez@hidalgocontycscd.org.

NEXT: Weapons of opportunity in community corrections 

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