We help personal trainers deal with difficult clients nearly every day. Some common questions we're asked are how to answer them with difficult questions, how to motivate them when they're down and at what point do you call it a day? Is there a way to turn an objection into acceptance? The topic is vast, and every case is very unique.
The trouble with difficult clients is that each personal trainer has a different definition of what a difficult client is. Because it depends on what you are good at, what your weaknesses are and of course how much experience you have with people in general.
These are only a few recurring problems personal trainers seem to face with clients on a daily basis. The problem is that we all try to do our best to be as nice and polite as possible. Deep down frustration can eat our passion away and it’s only a matter of time before it bursts. If you get to that point with a client, you probably won’t have that client for too long, nor your reputation.
Here are 6 ways to deal with difficult clients.
1. Set Some Ground Rules
Probably the most important strategy you can implement in to any of your business systems is one that sets ground rules between you and your clients.
This process begins before you even meet them. Your personal trainer website design, branding and calls to action will give the potential client a feel for how you operate and the first contact via email or phone will set the tone.
Some great ways to set the ground rules are to literally sit down and talk about them. Ask them what they need from you and tell them what you expect of them. Agree and clarify what you can both commit to using terms and conditions, write it down and use the document for future reference should a tricky situation arise.
And remember, it's OK for that document to change, provided you both discuss and agree to it. That's all part of the process.
Check out some of the templates we provide to our business coaching clients.
2. Choose Your Battles
Not everything is worth fighting over in any human relationship. That applies to business too. Get to know yourself. Identify what your values and priorities are so you can deal with situations accordingly.
Take a moment before reacting to a debate to assess consequences, especially online: Is what the client argues a result of a mistake you made or a misunderstanding? What outcomes are expected if you stick to your guns and is that worth it?
Then answer in a way that will bring the outcome you prefer.
Example: Someone is not happy and are asking for a refund. You feel a bit angry, a bit let down and now you have bills to worry about. It's a perfect time to explode and take your frustrations out on the client.
But you know better than that.
Within the parameters of your terms and conditions, the relationship you have with your client and the circumstance, it's almost always a good idea to refund. Not everything, but the work you haven’t done or the sessions that weren’t used.
Even if you have a no refund policy, with difficult clients it makes it easier to keep up a good reputation if you show you don’t want to rip them off.
3. Acknowledge Positive Change
This strategy is so simple but extremely powerful. Especially when it comes to personal training clients.
One of the reasons they show up and try their hardest is because they don't want to let you down. You become a parental figure for a very specific aspect of their life and like all good parental figures, acknowledging positive change is just as, if not more effective than punishment.
Pay attention to your clients, know their struggles and challenges. Especially the ones that are personal to them and seem so trivial.
Make sure you let them know you noticed and welcome any small change: nutrition habits, strength progress, lifestyle habit improvements.
Even small things like when they improve their form or start turning up on time for sessions instead of being a few minutes late. Re-inforcing positive habits will lead to improvements in their motivation to do even more and better.
Furthermore, it makes all the other strategies for dealing with difficult clients even more powerful because acknowledging positive change reinforces the fact that you care about your clients.
4. Manage Expectations
One of the biggest reason for any kind of disagreement is when our expectations are not met. It doesn’t matter how or why we had those expectations, but when something doesn’t work out the way we thought it will, we’ll get upset. It's just human nature.
Make sure your clients know exactly what to expect from you and what you expect from them. Then don’t let them down.
Being late for sessions, cancelling last minute or not delivering something you promised are all little things that damage trust. Life happens, traffic can be bad, just make sure you don’t leave them hanging, communicate any problems immediately so they know you care.
The same is true for your clients. Sit down and manage those expectations while you're setting up your terms and conditions.
Explain to them what they should do if they're stuck in traffic, what they should do if they're not happy with a specific aspect of your service or the process they follow should they need to cancel.
5. Change Your Body Language
Picture this. You walk in to the gym to see a client and trainer mid session. The client is sweating his face off while working through a circuit, trainer is sat in the nearest corner, typing away on the phone, turned slightly away from the client.
How does that make you feel? How do you think that client will feel?
This is just a very simple analogy but body language is one of the communication channels we use unconsciously. Make sure you show your professionalism by having an open but not too loose body language when talking to prospects and clients.
In a session position yourself in a way that the client can see you are paying attention, stand, kneel or sit with them, depending on where they perform their exercise. Put your phone away and only look at it in your breaks.
Try using some mirroring techniques to establish rapport with your client to help motivate them to make positive changes. You can learn more about mirroring and:
In our Neuro Linguistic Programming for Personal Trainers course.
6. Consider Their Perspective
Have you ever had a personal trainer? If not, it will be hard to imagine what it’s like to be a client. Have a few sessions with someone if need be. Ideally someone you consider to be much smarter than you, just to feel what they may feel.
A client, especially at the start will be shy, will think they can’t do many things and they'll worry they're going to look stupid.
As the trusted professional, it's your job to manage their expectations, understand where they are mentally and make sure you explain everything in a way they will understand, give them cues when teaching new exercises and make sure you ask for feedback often.
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