3 Ways to Deal with High Maintenance Clients

What’s wrong with high maintenance people?

Well, there’s the obvious (that they make everyone feel like they have to walk on egg-shells and think about every move they make and whether they’ve been accommodating enough not to piss said person off).

But beneath that, it gets worse. If you choose to stomp and not tap delicately around the egg-shells high maintenance people lay before your feet, you will undoubtedly get an earful about something you don’t really care about.

This puts you in quite the dilemma. You either spend your time living on edge trying to do everything according to their (unreasonable) standards or you knowingly piss them off just to engage them in an argument you don’t care about.

Or, you make an intentional effort to get those people out of your life. (More on this later).

The funniest part about them is how high maintenance people will swear that they are easy to get along with. They have chosen all these menial details that they have to have in place which makes them think they know themselves really well:

…I only drink sparkling water & I have to have a straw. Preferably a bendy straw, but I’m pretty flexible so if you give me a straight straw it’s not too big of a deal.

…I would never leave the house without my cuticles being pushed back. Sometimes I’ll go two weeks without getting my pedi done, but by that point I’m wearing closed toed shoes everywhere!

…I had to take the elevator with, like, 6 other people. Yeah, I could practically smell the germs floating off the guy in the corner.

…I’ve been sitting at this table for, like, 10 minutes and the only thing they’ve brought me is some water. I mean, they could have at least taken my drink order already. By the time they come around to place my appetizer I’ll already know what I want to order for my entree.

…I swear if this plane doesn’t get off the tarmac and into the air so I can turn my music on my phone back on, I am going to scream!

These are the types of people that even their pets have special accommodations that have to be made, and you sit there thinking, “Really? You really think your dog will perish without fresh blankets or a new comfortable purse cushion?”

It’s as if because they know the exact specifications by which to live their life in accordance with their own self-image, everyone else has to respect that. It’s enough to drive the people who actually do know themselves and are really low maintenance absolutely bonkers.

Do you have clients that this is true for? Are there some clients that you just hate seeing show up on your calendar because you know they are going to complain about any number of things before you even get them out of the waiting room?

…Is it hot in here to anyone else but me? I swear, keeping it this warm is just not sanitary. Getting sick is the last thing I need right now; it’s why I keep my ac running at a constant 65 degrees.

…No one else on the road can drive at all! 4 cars almost rear ended me before I got here and the car parked next to me is so close to the line I’m just sure I’m going to have a scratch when I get out of here.

…What is that smell? I really wish people wouldn’t use communal microwaves to heat up food that has such strong scents. Don’t they realize how the scent in the air affects everyone? Can someone open a window or do I need to wait outside?

…If you’re going to have magazines out here in the waiting room, you might as well have the most recent editions. What good is last month’s edition of People going to do for me now? The season has totally changed.

It gives me anxiety just thinking about it. If dealing with too many of these clients raises your blood pressure, it seems to me there are 3 things you can do about it.

1. Adapt to their demands

Not the most attractive option, especially if you have some of the same sarcastic and cynical views about these types of people as I do. It’s great though for people who really, really aim to please.

If it is something really easy to adapt to, then I might consider doing it. But most of the time they are adaptations that affect everyone else at the place of business and will likely go unnoticed when the client does come in.

The client will probably not notice that it is cooler, that it smells nice, or that the most recent editions of US Weekly, People, & InStyle are on the table. Instead, he/she will likely find something else not on par with their standards.

Don’t worry; I don’t believe that this gives them more encouragement to complain. In fact, I think it discourages it as most people don’t really enjoy being the types of people who others see as needing special arrangements. If you do something to adapt to what they wanted, make sure to point it out to them. It’s the most fair thing you can do for yourself, and you shouldn’t feel like you are asking for undeserved credit. If someone complains about something so loudly that it gives you anxiety, when you get it resolved let them know so they can know you took it seriously.

So tell them in a polite way but also in a way that lets them know you went out of your way to accommodate them. If possible, do it when someone else is around to hear it. Make sure to phrase it in such a way that makes it clear that you responded to something they specifically had an issue with.

I would say to use words like “you had an issue with our common practice of…” or “you found our standard method of __ problematic last time” instead of “you requested we change this”. Saying “you requested” makes their complaint seem reasonable and how they let you know about it seem valid. If that’s not true, then think about they way you phrase how you let them know you took care of it.

2. Tell them their demands might be better met elsewhere

This one can be a bit tough as telling them you’re not going to adjust to what they’re asking for can go in 1 of 2 directions. Either you’ll lose them as a client or you’ll show them the errors in their logic. And even if you do manage to show them the errors in their logic, they may still be too embarrassed by their behavior to want to visit your shop again.

There is no denying the righteous feeling you’ll get, though, if you handle this tactfully.

As Isaac Newton said, “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.”

Telling someone that their demands might be better met at another establishment doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re telling them you don’t want them as a client anymore. You’re essentially telling them that you’ve heard their complaints but it’s not something you’re willing to change your policies to accommodate.

You are not telling them that their complaint is totally invalid or that they are a crazy person (although they may be). You are simply making a decision for what you value in your business and pointing out to them that your values apparently differ. If what the client is complaining about is actually something they really, truly can’t stand they will take their business elsewhere and will hopefully accept your forthrightness with gratitude.

As an example, let’s say you’re a massage therapist and someone booked an appointment online with you. She walks into your spa the day of the appointment and maybe you, in all your kink-unwinding wisdom, can already see the tension built in her shoulders and her lips just quivering to complain.

You have cucumber water in the waiting area and the receptionist tells the customer to grab a glass of it if she’d like.

High Maintenance (HM) Client: “Is all you have plastic cups? Seems like if I’m paying this kind of money you would at least be serving out of something ceramic, not throw away little dixie cups.”

Alright, you think, this is a bit outrageous (I mean, she can afford a massage and she’s being offered cucumber water. Why not chill?) but you have a few glasses in the kitchen. Not a big deal.

Calm & Cool (C&C) Service Provider: “I can grab you a glass out of the kitchen. Just one second.” You run and get the glass and fill it up with the water before handing it to your client.

HM Client: “I would have preferred to check and make sure the glass was clean first, but whatever. Thanks, I guess.” She takes a sip and you’re sure she’s about to chill out (it’s cucumber water, what else do you do but chill?). Instead, she offers “You guys shouldn’t chill this so much. My teeth are sensitive and this about kills them to drink it. Shouldn’t you have straws out for people with sensitive teeth to drink out of? What do your clients even pay for anyway?”

You take a deep breath. This is not getting any better. Your mind runs back to a sick & twisted version of the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” book. Will it end? Best to cut your losses.

C&C Service Provider: “We actually don’t have any straws. I can see that protecting your teeth is really important to you and our business doesn’t place as much value on it. Since your visit hasn’t been up to your standards so far, we can cancel your appointment today, void the cancellation charge, and recommend some other spas in the area that may offer a more accommodating experience to your needs.”

I think this is as tactfully as you can say that you’re not going to take insults to your business when you’ve tried to be accommodating. The clients can’t blow up at a tactfully made point without proving your point further.

Plus, if you throw in exactly what you are doing for them in the process (voiding the cancellation charge) along with how you’ve messed up (not placing as much value on your teeth & thus not being up to the client’s standards) without using any kind of sarcastic tone, the client is more than likely going to be forced into viewing you favorably.

3. Make their demands insignificant

At first, this might seem counter-intuitive toward the end of lowering your blood pressure. It does require a certain mental shift for ignoring their demands to work toward decreasing the anxiety you feel when they show up on your schedule.

I’m here to tell you, with these high maintenance people it is not you, it’s them.

They would have complained about something no matter what you did to accommodate to their needs. They are very likely dissatisfied with something else in their life and haven’t found inner peace. So they look outward for the things that are wrong in the world in their opinion and blame that as the root cause of their unhappiness.

You just happened to be in their external world today.

Don’t give their complaints power over you. Don’t let their complaining bring you down, too.

I’m not saying you have to totally ignore them. By looking them in the eye and restating their complaint back to them, you acknowledged that you’ve heard them, which clears you to not have to address it henceforth, without contributing to their negativity.

Here’s how a conversation like that might play out:

HM Client “My GPS took me in such a roundabout way to get here that I’ve been in the car for half an hour now when it should have only taken 20 minutes. You guys should really tell the easiest way to get here from my side of town on your website. It could have saved me so much gas.”

C&C Service Provider “I hear that you’re frustrated about your GPS not navigating you here as directly as you want.”

That’s it. If the HM Client says anything after that, you are not obligated to say anything back. You can just redirect the conversation back to actually getting the appointment done.

So, if they come back and say: “You better believe I’m frustrated about that. It pointed me around my elbow to get to my thumb and I was almost late getting here,” you do not have to engage them in that any more. Remember, you’ve already addressed it. You can just move right along and say, “Well, I’m glad you’re here. Want to come on back and we’ll get started?”

This is the method I most often use with high maintenance people in my life. Some would call it cowardly because you’re not getting rid of the root problem. I, however, do not have any illusion that I’m really going to be much of an influence engaging in a “how can you blame me for that” sort of conversation with them. I also know that I’m not going to go out of my way to accommodate their needs.

Those are the 3 ways I can see how to circumnavigate the blood-pressure-rising aspects of clients who have proven high maintenance. You can either accommodate, eliminate, or disempower. There is no reason, however, to keep letting your heart take the abuse.

Have you tried any of these three methods in your business? If so, how did they work? Ever had an argument with a client making unreasonable demands? What advice do you have for folks who are dealing with high maintenance clients? Let us know in the comments below!