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Thread: How to Approach a Difficult Client I know is Wrong

  1. #1
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    How to Approach a Difficult Client I know is Wrong

    I have a bit of an issue. I have a part time company where I work parties (Bartend, serve, event manage). Itís something Iíve done for a long time as a second job. Itís not my full time job, but itís something I do a few times a month for extra money. I own the company, and I have a small staff who help me out during larger parties. Anyway, I had two of my staff members work a party for me this past weekend because I had my own party I had to work. The party they worked was a referral from one of my long time clients who I just adore; theyíve referred me several times to their neighbors and family; theyíre great. My staff is fantastic. They are all long time servers and bartenders who also have cooking experience. I trust them explicitly. They are responsible, they are experienced, they are tidy, they always go the extra mile.

    When I spoke to this client weeks before the party, she was saying she was looking for help. She said last year she had 100 people and no help at her party.
    I suggested having 2 people to help her if sheís having 100 guests. She agreed. She told me she felt weird having help Ė that sheís very hippie-ish and felt weird about having help at all.

    Anyway, so the party comes and goes, I ask my staff how it went. They said it went good, but there were a few things they were concerned about. They mentioned how the house, esp kitchen was very messy when they arrived, but they did clean everything up and left the kitchen much cleaner than when they arrived, as they always do. They also were told by the client to have the dessert by one time, and when an earlier time came, she said ďwhereís the dessertĒ, and they said, ďyou said to bring it out XXX but donít worry, weíll bring it out now if you want it earlier, no worries.Ē They she also mentioned how she didnít like how they assembled one of the appetizers out on a platter. While they were there, they said they were a little uncomfortable because she got into a couple little arguments with her husband in front of them, and she was talking down to her nanny, one of her kids was lying in the kitchen having a meltdown for most of the party, then she was complaining to them that the husband gave away a bunch of the leftovers to the neighbors.

    Anyway, they/we take all parties in stride. Itís always fun to work parties and people are a hoot, even difficult clients can be a hoot.

    But what bothered me was this: I reached out to her the next day to see how everything went. She didnít respond, but then she calls me the next day to give me feedback. She said the staff was ďgood, but not greatĒ. Saying how they worked so hard, but she wouldnít recommend them to other people. But would recommend me, who she has seen at numerous parties her neighbor had. She said ďmaybe itís me, maybe I need to learn how to delegate better, this was the first time I had help.Ē ďOr maybe because you werenít there with them.Ē (Theyíve worked several parties solo and always get great reviews.) She picked on several things they did ďwrongĒ: Mentioning the platter that wasnít prepared to her liking (she never told them how to do it until after it was done wrong), mentioned that she went to heat something up in the microwave, and it looked like something splattered all over the microwave and they didnít clean it up (they never used the microwave), finally, the dessert being brought out at a different time than what she thought she said.

    She told me not to tell them what she said, and that she ďgave them a generous tipĒ because she didnít want to make them feel bad. If she thinks they didnít do a good job, why tip them, then call to complain about it?

    I defend my workers 100% because Iíve worked with them on many many occasions Ė they are awesome, they always go above and beyond, and have saved me on a few occasions! They are fantastic without a doubt. Iíve worked with non-experienced/bad people before, and they are not at all bad.

    I was going to email this client, just to say, Thank you for your feedback, Itís been worrying me the last few days, I expressed my concerns to my staff (even though she told me not too!):
    -They never used the microwave, so that must have happened before they arrived. (They did mention the kitchen was a bit of a mess when they arrived)
    -That she did say a different time for the desserts.

    My question is: How do essentially tell a difficult client: Youíre wrong without saying actually saying that? Or do I just sweep it under the rug and move on? I have another party with one of her neighbors in a few weeks; Iím afraid Iíll see her at the party and I donít want to see her. She seems like the type of person to pick on things and find wrong, when there really isnít anything wrong at all. Am I making too much of this?

  2. #2
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    What I would do: I wouldn't send this email but if you meet her at another party and she is badmouthing you, I would reply with what you want to write in the email. Maybe it could cause friction in front of others but again that's what I would do.

  3. #3
    Platinum Member j.man's Avatar
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    So if I'm reading it correctly, you weren't actually there? I mean, I've got no reason to doubt you or your team, so if you tell me they didn't use the microwave or dessert came out at the correct time, it's no skin off my back to agree with you. But, no, there's no way to tell the person who was actually there that essentially she's wrong without very likely p1ssing her off and escalating the situation from "I'm not going to refer them" to her actively undermining you. While it's admirable you feel so compelled to stick up for your team, it's likely just as much in their best interests as it is yours to let it go.

    I imagine this happens frequently in the service industry, when a customer complains, management knows they're probably wrong or are being hyperbolic, but still the management smiles and offers an empty apology while obviously not reprimanding their staff. I'd let it go.

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    Platinum Member Wiseman2's Avatar
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    Was the client pretty drunk? Just let it go and don't send that particular staff to that particular client again. Just email the client, thank you for your feedback. Leave it because it's a they said/she said deal and will just stay that way. This client sounds cranky or as if she drank too much, so let it go.

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  6. #5
    Platinum Member j.man's Avatar
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    Also, just as an aside, I'm definitely one of those people who still tips for awful service. 20% is pretty much my baseline. Not necessarily proud of it and there are times the wife has legit disapproved on moral grounds because the service was just that terrible, but I think it's just me paying tribute to the cosmos so that I may never have to work in food service or with customers in general ever again.

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    I wouldn't send that email, but I'd make notes in your files about it. That the microwave was never used, that the dessert was asked for at a different time, etc.

    I'd simply thank the client for her business and for her feedback, and wish her Happy Holidays.

    You do not want her to get your email and be able to circulate it around to her friends, or worse, the dreaded social media. You will not win.

    She sounds like a spoiled woman who took out her own life's frustrations on you. I mean, who has a messy kitchen when they are expecting 100 guests? Mine (and yours, I'm sure) would be so spotless you'd be able to eat off the floor.

    In this age of social media, your email would be copied & pasted all over the place, and all of her "friends" would chime in:
    --"Oh yeah, I was at that party, and they gave me Pinot Grigio instead of Chardonnay"
    --"I had to ask for extra hand towels in the bathroom as they didn't replenish them fast enough"
    Blah blah blah

    For future situations, times and arrangements of appetizers, etc., could be added to the contract. Of course, the messy microwave wouldn't enter into the contract. That sh*t just makes me mad.

  8. #7
    Platinum Member mustlovedogs's Avatar
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    To be fair, you donít *know* she is wrong, you just believe she is.

    And she probably is.

    Keep some things in mind. She doesnít know how to host a party, how to delegate, whatever, so she may have been overwhelmed and not remembered what she said or did. Not an excuse but an explanation.

    I would just communicate with her that you appreciate the feedback and you recognize there is some more specific communication that needs to be done before and during the party because you suspect there may have been a miscommunication somewhere.

    Tell her you appreciate working for her and if thereís anything you can do to remedy the situation, let you know.

    That may be enough to quell her temper.

  9. #8
    Platinum Member itsallgrand's Avatar
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    Don't pursue it further. Just thank for feedback, move on.

    You just can't please everyone all the time. It's ok, it sounds like you do a great job and won't be hurting by one 'good, not great' opinion.

  10. #9
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    I really like everyone's advice here. Some great input.

    Like the other posters have suggested, I wouldn't bother sending the email either. Even if you were to attempt to point out to this client the inadequacies in what she told you, versus what your team told you, you're fighting a losing battle (especially if you put it in an email! This would do you more harm than good [as LHGirl pointed out]). It would be one thing if you were actually there and could confirm what your team told you, but you weren't.

    Although I'm not the biggest fan of the statement that 'a customer is always right' (because I honestly don't believe this), I think it's a good philosophy to keep in mind when dealing with customers like this lady. I'm by no means suggesting that you agree with her and tell her that she's right. But, acknowledging her concerns and as mustlovedogs suggested, letting her know that you appreciate working for her could go a long way here. I find that some people just want to be acknowledged and heard. Plus, it's good for business.

    Getting into a "well you said this, but my staff told me that" type of situation is a no-win scenario, especially if you're dealing with someone who's persnickety and is convinced that they're in the right. And at least you know what you're dealing with if you take on any events with her in the future (that's if you want to).

    I'm sure you get tons of business based on referrals and word-of-mouth, so I would try and appease her if possible. I get that it's a pain in the ar*e, but this will benefit you in the long-run.

    Out of curiosity, has she paid her bill yet? Maybe I'm just being Ms. Cynical here, but the first thought that came to mind when I was reading your post, Daisy, was that she was trying to get her bill reduced.

    Either way, doesn't really change the circumstances of the situation. Just being curious.

  11. #10
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    Thanks for your responses and support! I wonít send that email. We hashed it out on the phone earlier this week, and I did say to her ďIím sorry to hear that, etcĒ. But you guys are right, Iíd prefer not to make it more complicated or her see my email, get angry and say something to one of her neighbors/friends. I just have a feeling sheís one of those people that would say something to her neighbors or like you said LH, she would copy and paste the email all over the place. People love to pick things apart and voice their opinions on the internet lol! (Things can get so misconstrued over emailÖ) I was just angry the last couple days since she said this, but Iím glad I waited and didnít send anything. Iíll definitely work for her neighbors again, her neighbors are great, but I donít think Iíll work for her again knowing the way she looks for things that are wrong.

    Must love dogs - Iím not sure about saying to her about some more specific communication that needs to be done because I feel like this might make her even angrier. (although I do agree she did not give enough communicationÖfor example, she gave my staff the list of food she was serving but did not give a time line when everything needed to go out. She did the same to me before the party Ė she sent me her menu beforehand, but it was vague, and she said she would send me a timeline and never did).

    But maybe Iíll just email and say like you mentioned LH and Must love, ďThanks for the business and feedback, I appreciate it. Enjoy your holidays.Ē Kill her with kindness. 😊 I donít know if I should say ďif thereís anything I can do to remedy the situation... ď I feel like she might ask for her money back!

    Itís funny she told me she saw me at 2 different parties at her neighborís house and she thought I ran that party so well and kept the party running smoothly and thatís why she wanted to hire me. I told her that one of my staff from her party was with me at those partiesÖ (trying to explain without explaining that she helped me run the party really well.) And whatís funnier is I donít remember her at all...

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