10 Tips to Handle Difficult Customers in Your Small Business

You must know by now, repeat customers are key to building a successful small business. But, it isn't always easy to build a relationship, and you need to have a plan in place to deal with bumps in the road when customers are unhappy. The way you handle a dicey situation will make all the difference in whether or not your customer will come back. Here are 10 tips to handle difficult customers in your small business.

  1. Start the relationship with a kick-off meeting. Use the meeting to make sure that all stakeholders have the same understanding of deliverables, work-plan and payment terms.
  2. Get a signed agreement and a 50 percent deposit. Having your "business handled" gives you leverage and negotiating power if a client becomes difficult to work with.
  3. Listen First. Let the customer know that they've been heard and action will be taken to correct the problem.
  4. Don't be quick to offer a refund. Don't offer a refund; offer them a chance to try the service again for a discount if there was a failure on delivering what was promised.
  5. Do your homework. Ask for a reference from other vendors before your start working with a company to find out if they are easy to work with and pay on time.
  6. Don't discount your price. People will always ask you to cut your price. Don't do it unless there is a reason that brings other upside potential that's guaranteed like a long-term contract, high-end testimonial or additional referral business.
  7. Avoid rework. Agree in advance on the number of revisions the client will see before additional budget will be required.
  8. Manage Customer Expectations. Have the client sign and agree upon the project time-line.
  9. Track customer communication. Mange your team communications and deliverables through a web-based software like Basecamp.
  10. Insist on a single point of contact. You can only have one person communicating with your company on behalf of the client.
Customers want to know you care. When expectations aren't met, they have the right to complain. Don't take it personally, and find a way to turn a negative situation into a positive experience. Without our clients, we don't have a business, so try to preserve relationships at all costs. Still, there will always be someone you just won't be able to please. In that case, cut yourself some slack and cut the customer loose.

This article was originally published under the title SmallBizLady's 10 Rules for Managing Tough Customers at