How to Handle the Difficult Client

dealing with difficult clients

Every Realtor has had at least one. Matter of fact, if you’ve had only one, count yourself lucky. The client who complains about your ridiculously high fees. The client who calls at 10 p.m., demanding immediate attention. The client who expects you to hold an open house every weekend. What’s a Realtor to do?

First of all, realize that those demanding clients are a fact of life in our business. Here’s why: buying or selling a home is the single largest financial transaction that most people will ever have. When large sums of money are on the line, even the coolest client can morph into a monster. Here are four communication techniques that will help you stay composed in the face of unreasonable and unrelenting demands.

  • Practice self-management
  • Listen constructively
  • Create boundaries
  • Manage expectations

Practice self-management
When you encounter someone who seems determined to get under your skin, simply ask yourself, “Do I own this problem?” If some offhand comment or oversight on your part triggered a reaction, take responsibility, apologize, and move on. If the client is simply being cantankerous, shift the focus. Try offering a positive or encouraging solution. Keep smiling and don’t lose your cool. Your own inner peace is what’s important. And above all, don’t take it personally.

Listen constructively
Make it a point to listen with understanding to what the client is saying. Many times, what you heard is not what they meant. They may be in a high anxiety state about moving to a new community or losing money on the sale of their home. Often speech and body language will offer clues about what is really going on with this person. Don’t respond abruptly or out of anger. Remember that often all the person wants is to be heard and understood.

Create boundaries
Different types of demands call for different responses. If you have one of those clients who calls randomly throughout the day with countless questions and bogus information, don’t feel compelled to answer every call. Instead, try the following affirmative suggestions:

  • “I know you have lots of questions, Mrs. Jones. Why don’t you keep a list and I’ll check in with you every day around 2 o’clock so we can update each other.”
  • “I’m usually available by phone between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. so please leave me a message and I’ll get back to you within the hour.”
  • Open houses can be useful, so I’ve scheduled your home to be on the broker tour next Wednesday. I’ll plan a weekend open house for the following weekend.”

Here’s what’s important about these boundary statements: they are all positive. They tell the client what you can do, rather than what you can’t or won’t do. “I can speak with you any time before 4 today,” leaves a much better feeling than “I don’t take calls after 4 p.m.”

Of course you can always make exceptions in case of an emergency, but you have a life too and protecting your personal time is important to your own mental health and personal productivity.

Manage expectations
Setting up expectations in advance about what is and isn’t possible can lay the groundwork for positive client communications throughout the buying and selling process. Work with the clients to establish a clear picture of what they are looking for in a home. Establish the difference between “have to have” and “nice to have.” Two bathrooms? Have to have. Hot tub? Nice to have. Minimize any tendency to keep adding to the list. “So is a media room part of your “must haves” now?”

Give the clients a clear picture of what the buying or selling process looks like and how you plan to interact with them. We find it works best to put this information in writing and include it in the welcome packet that you give clients in your first meeting. Here are a few things to include:

  • Your office hours
  • When you are and are not available by phone
  • How frequently or when you return phone calls
  • Planned time off or away from the office
  • Paperwork you’ll need the client to provide
  • Types and frequency of open houses
  • General marketing plan

Creating this kind of framework in the very first meeting establishes your reputation as a true professional, someone who is well organized with a solid plan to give your clients what they want and need. Will such a plan remove demanding clients from your landscape? Of course not. But it can help you turn demanding clients into raving fans who will sing your praises and sell your services to others. And that, after all, is the name of the game.

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