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How to Approach a Difficult Client I know is Wrong


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I have a bit of an issue. I have a part time company where I work parties (Bartend, serve, event manage). It’s something I’ve done for a long time as a second job. It’s not my full time job, but it’s 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; they’ve referred me several times to their neighbors and family; they’re 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 she’s having 100 guests. She agreed. She told me she felt weird having help – that she’s 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 “where’s the dessert”, and they said, “you said to bring it out XXX but don’t worry, we’ll bring it out now if you want it earlier, no worries.” They she also mentioned how she didn’t 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. It’s 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 didn’t respond, but then she calls me the next day to give me feedback. She said the staff was “good, but not great”. Saying how they worked so hard, but she wouldn’t recommend them to other people. But would recommend me, who she has seen at numerous parties her neighbor had. She said “maybe it’s me, maybe I need to learn how to delegate better, this was the first time I had help.” “Or maybe because you weren’t there with them.” (They’ve worked several parties solo and always get great reviews.) She picked on several things they did “wrong”: Mentioning the platter that wasn’t 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 didn’t 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 “gave them a generous tip” because she didn’t want to make them feel bad. If she thinks they didn’t do a good job, why tip them, then call to complain about it?

 

I defend my workers 100% because I’ve worked with them on many many occasions – they are awesome, they always go above and beyond, and have saved me on a few occasions! They are fantastic without a doubt. I’ve 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, It’s 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: You’re 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; I’m afraid I’ll see her at the party and I don’t want to see her. She seems like the type of person to pick on things and find wrong, when there really isn’t anything wrong at all. Am I making too much of this?

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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.

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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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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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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.

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To be fair, you don’t *know* she is wrong, you just believe she is.

 

And she probably is.

 

Keep some things in mind. She doesn’t 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 there’s anything you can do to remedy the situation, let you know.

 

That may be enough to quell her temper.

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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.

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Thanks for your responses and support! I won’t send that email. We hashed it out on the phone earlier this week, and I did say to her “I’m sorry to hear that, etc”. But you guys are right, I’d 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 she’s 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 email…) I was just angry the last couple days since she said this, but I’m glad I waited and didn’t send anything. I’ll definitely work for her neighbors again, her neighbors are great, but I don’t think I’ll work for her again knowing the way she looks for things that are wrong.

 

Must love dogs - I’m 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 communication…for 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 – she sent me her menu beforehand, but it was vague, and she said she would send me a timeline and never did).

 

But maybe I’ll just email and say like you mentioned LH and Must love, “Thanks for the business and feedback, I appreciate it. Enjoy your holidays.” Kill her with kindness. 😊 I don’t know if I should say “if there’s anything I can do to remedy the situation... “ I feel like she might ask for her money back!

 

It’s funny she told me she saw me at 2 different parties at her neighbor’s house and she thought I ran that party so well and kept the party running smoothly and that’s why she wanted to hire me. I told her that one of my staff from her party was with me at those parties… (trying to explain without explaining that she helped me run the party really well.) And what’s funnier is I don’t remember her at all...

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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.

 

Thank you for your support, I agree with you 100%! :-)

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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.

 

Gosh I hope she wouldn’t badmouth me in front of me at a party! Lol

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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.

 

I didn’t think about that- maybe she was drunk.

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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.

 

Thanks for your advice, I agree! I thought that too about the bill- she did pay and I did deposit the check. I thought maybe she was trying to get a discount. :-)

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While I agree that you shouldn't bother to confront her, I am curious how you handled her complaints with your staff?

 

I manage a team of engineers that provide technical support for customers that use our software. We sometimes get complaints from customers, sales executives, consultants, etc. for various reasons... while on the one hand I want to address the customer's complaints and make sure they get their needs met, on the other hand I don't want to alienate my staff by not having their back... because like you, I really believe in their ability and the quality of their work and I know their job can be difficult!

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Believing in your team and their abilities is great, but it's always a good idea to temper that with the fact that your team is made up of humans and humans are flawed. People do actually make mistakes, overlook things, etc. When managing, it's actually never a good idea to believe in your team blindly. Try to stay more objective and grounded about it and about customer complaints. Mistakes do happen and getting defensive with a customer will not work out well for you. You don't want to create a culture of "us v. them" and you definitely don't want to create a culture where your team feels like no matter how badly they mess up, there will never be consequences ro accountability because their boss blindly believes them over the customer. Ironically, that can actually destroy a great team, destroy morale, leave people not caring about their work, etc. Ultimately, it can sink your business because most unsatisfied customers may never say a word, just transfer their business elsewhere.

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The customer is always right! Do not say any more.

 

Tell her that you spoke to your staff and apologize for any miscommunication.

 

I do not understand how she is uncomfortable with help if she has a nanny. The woman sounds like a pain in the azz,

 

Let it go. You already have a great reputation. You can't please everyone.

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Yeah, I agree with Holly and everyone else. Don't get defensive with clients. Move from denial (my guys couldn't have done this) to acceptance (I'm sorry and it won't happen again. Remember, that you are servers and you're there to serve.

 

Personally, I would tell you that if she does contact you for a future party, you might want to pass on the job. I don't think she will be happy even with your best service.

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Yeah, I agree with Holly and everyone else. Don't get defensive with clients. Move from denial (my guys couldn't have done this) to acceptance (I'm sorry and it won't happen again. Remember, that you are servers and you're there to serve.

 

Personally, I would tell you that if she does contact you for a future party, you might want to pass on the job. I don't think she will be happy even with your best service.

 

Yup. I agree. I would be busy if she contacts you again.

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The customer is always right! Do not say any more.

 

Tell her that you spoke to your staff and apologize for any miscommunication.

I do not understand how she is uncomfortable with help if she has a nanny. The woman sounds like a pain in the azz,

 

Let it go. You already have a great reputation. You can't please everyone.

 

I like this wording: Apologize for any miscommunication. Period.

 

Don't offer to remedy the situation, because you're then putting the ball in her court, asking her to respond. And she will....by asking for a full, or partial, refund.

 

Actually, the apology for miscommunication is genuine. For future reference, all communications about how the appetizers should be laid out, what times things should be served, and yes, whether you'll be using the microwave, oven, stove, etc., should be lined out specifically.

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I like this wording: Apologize for any miscommunication. Period.

 

Don't offer to remedy the situation, because you're then putting the ball in her court, asking her to respond. And she will....by asking for a full, or partial, refund.

 

Actually, the apology for miscommunication is genuine. For future reference, all communications about how the appetizers should be laid out, what times things should be served, and yes, whether you'll be using the microwave, oven, stove, etc., should be lined out specifically.

 

Thank you. Oh no I definitely would never have said “how can I remedy the situation” in this circumstance. In another circumstance, maybe. But not this one.

 

When we were on the phone earlier in the week, I did say “sorry for any miscommunication”, and I did mean it.

 

I did write a quick email a couple hours ago saying: “I wanted to thank you so much for the feedback from your party on Saturday. I appreciate the feedback and the business, and I wish you and your family a happy holiday season.” I thought that was professional and kind. And I don’t plan to take her party if she does call me again. I feel like she’d be watching me and be looking for something to go wrong.

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I do not understand how she is uncomfortable with help if she has a nanny. The woman sounds like a pain in the azz,

 

Let it go. You already have a great reputation. You can't please everyone.

 

I agree—her nanny was actually an au pair (live in nanny) and she mentioned that her house cleaner was coming the next day after the party. It didn’t make any sense that she was so embarrassed to have help. She was very cool when I first spoke to her on the phone but then during the party and after party she was like a whole different person.

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I did write a quick email a couple hours ago saying: “I wanted to thank you so much for the feedback from your party on Saturday. I appreciate the feedback and the business, and I wish you and your family a happy holiday season.” I thought that was professional and kind. And I don’t plan to take her party if she does call me again. I feel like she’d be watching me and be looking for something to go wrong.

 

Perfect email, perfect response, and agreed that I wouldn't take her party again if she calls. You will be "busy" that night, and you wish her the best.

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I would nod and either decide to not book with her again because she is high maintenance, or only book if you can be there since she seems to prefer you and if you have another party that day, then tell her sorry that you can't accommodate her. I would not pass along a bad review to your team or hold it against them. They did clean her kitchen, which was above and beyond what they were supposed to do, so any small hitch that happened I would not penalize them for.

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