Grab Bag: “How Do You Deal With A Horrendous Day At Work? My Client Is So Unfair!”

 A reader e-mails in, “FS, I’ve just had one of the worst freaking days of the year today at work. I’ve been busting my butt for this one client for the past 6 months, and when it was time to do their semi-annual review, we actually got worse in their ranking. To add insult to injury, they also provided some negative feedback, and I’ve known this client for so long. I thought we had a good relationship. I’m so mad because I’ve spent double the effort on them this year, and went backwards. They aren’t even a big client! What would you do? Thanks, Frustrated.”

Hi “Frustrated”, I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I’ve been there before, many of times, and all I’ve wanted to do was give up and yell. What’s important is to NOT act emotionally. Go for a walk, grab a drink, and take some deep breaths before you e-mail/call the client or discuss the issue with your manager. Too many times, people write things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment and end up regretting their actions. You must go about this in a rationale manner.

5 Suggestions For Handling A Difficult Client:
1) Thank the client for their candid feedback, and try and understand their perspective. Ask the client what your competitors are doing differently, and what you can do to improve. Your competitors might be smaller competitors who treat this “small client,” like one of your “big clients.” Or your competitors may really be stepping up their service because they’re afraid of survival, and need to do whatever it takes with even the small clients. Once you get a barometer for your competition, make a mental note and decide how to execute.

2) Provide your client with a list of things you have done for them during the voting time period. Perhaps it was a project earlier in the vote they may not have remembered. Ask the client to evaluate whether the things you did were helpful, and how you can improve if what you did were not. Many times the client is inundated with so many things that they take for granted what you’ve done for them in the past or simply do not remember! Make sure you remind them, especially during this process. In fact, after this first hiccup, make sure you remind them prior to the review.

3) After getting a better understanding of where they are coming from, start providing your perspective. You may be understaffed, or the client may not be considered one of the priorities in your firms rankings. Whatever it is, provide some background and make them understand your side of the story. For example, the client may be at the bottom tier and you aren’t given the proper resources to service this client as a result. Make the organization the “bad cop”, but mention to them you will do all you can to service them with the resources you are provided. More often than not, the client will appreciate your feedback. Make sure you are not trying to make an excuse for your poor results. It’s imperative to just lay out the facts. They might not be aware they aren’t the biggest client in the world!

4) After both sides get a better understanding of each other, you have to decide whether it’s worthwhile to pursue what they’ve asked. Obviously, in the ideal world, you’d be #1 with everybody. However, you can’t be all things to all people. The time you spend with this small client, may be time you don’t spend with a big client. If your big client’s relationships start suffering, you are definitely doing the wrong thing and will be penalized eventually. If you are resource constraint, like many are during this downturn due to layoffs, you must focus on the top 20-30% of your clients who provide the majority of your revenue. It’s the “80/20” rule, and it’s held true by that rough estimate for the longest of time.

5) Finally, you must manage your manager’s expectations because at the end of the day, results affect your pay and potential promotion. Are you getting overly upset because your manager actually doesn’t care so much about this small account? Any rationale manager should understand that it’s more important you do well with your big accounts, and take what you can get for the small accounts, especially if you are resource constrained. And if she doesn’t, it is entirely up to you to properly educate the manager about the revenue upside and the cost associated with service i.e. the time spent, and the time not spent on other more important accounts.


I have a feeling you are somewhat of a perfectionist who wants to be the best at anything you attempt.  The problem with perfectionism is that it’s wrought with disappointment. We end up taking things too personally. We may even start getting that annoying back pain I wrote about in a previous post, “The Book That Changed My Life & Made Me Rich Again,” because we are so stressed! Maintain a rationale approach and have a candid conversation with both your client and managers to find a reasonable resolution.  Best of luck!

Readers, feel free to share your thoughts on dealing with a bad day. We all have one!


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Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. says

    Reading this post I went back and forth, and still haven’t made up my mind, mostly because I don’t know the emailer or the business, but

    On one hand – if the client isn’t happy it is your fault. If you did more work, whatever that work is, maybe they don’t understand that – and that is your fault and you should explain that like FS said.

    On the other hand – Sometimes clients are a pain, but they are sticking with you so don’t worry about it

    • says

      Evan – Thnx for your thoughts. Sometimes clients really are a pain, but at the end of the day, they are your clients so we got to just buckle down and focus on solutions. If we don’t, our competitors will. FS

  2. says

    Customer First!!!

    FS I think you first suggestion was the best of all. However, if it was my client I would take it one step further. I would assure the client of my desire to provide only the most value added services or products. To help facilitate this I would suggest to the client that we change the nature of our communications from reviewing performance after the fact to previewing the expected performance in advance.

    As I see it, reviews of any type including personnel are kind of stupid. What happened in the past is past. Waiting till review to raise concerns is a waste. Establishing clear understandings and expectations is proactive. Furthermore once we have a common understanding we have a way to measure throughout the relationship to ensure that both parties are meeting their expectations.

    • says

      Greg – Great advice on not waiting until the review to raise concerns, but to be proactive. Excellent point! Too bad this customer sounds like he thinks he’s more important than he really is. FS

  3. Charlie says

    I’ve had my fair share of difficult conversations with clients. I even had one guy start yelling at my staff over the phone once and when I stepped in to console things he hung up on me! I immediately went to my manager and explained what was going on – when clients are really upset things can spiral out of control quickly. We got together with the head of our office and talked to the screaming clients boss who apologized profusely for the outburst and we were able to work through the situation.

    • says

      Hi Charlie – Thnx for your thoughts. Yeah, screaming and going bonkers generally never is a good idea. We’ll regret what we say during the heat of the moment. Best to just walk away, do some breathing exercises and drink a tall glass of water before engaging the client again! FS

  4. Lovingkind says

    FS – You are right, maintaining rationale approach and having candid conversation with both clients and managers is important. Not showing frustration in front of our clients makes us appear to be more competent and helps us see things more clearly. (We need to deal with our frustration later, like reading Dr. Sarno’s “Healing Back Pain” :O), lest we get unwanted pains!)

    Of course, we can decide whether we want to keep these “difficult” clients after we exhausted all means.

    • says

      Thanks Lovingkind. Sometimes we have to focus on the 80/20 rule, and just focus on the top 20% of clients. If the client isn’t big and isn’t nice either, well… it may be time for a change!

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