Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Clients

When you really get down to it, personal training is a customer service industry. How you interact with clients influences how successful you will be as a personal trainer, regardless of if you’re working at a large chain gym or run your own personal training business. The ‘client interaction’ side of the job is the part that goes past fitness, training, and exercise.


While different trainers have different definitions of what a difficult client is, there are a few common problems trainers seem to face with their clients more often than others. Many of these common problems can be addressed by implementing a few strategies.



1. Set Ground Rules

The easiest way to set ground rules is to literally set aside a time and discuss this with your client. Figure out what they are expecting from you and make it clear the expectations you will have of them. As with any relationship, being on the same page is crucial for it to thrive. Agree on the conditions of your trainer/client relationship – which can include defining how to deal with potential problems that may arise (such as a client who is always 30 minutes late).


2. Choose Your Battles

Something you’ve probably heard before: ‘choose your battles’. Just how this applies to most interpersonal relationships, it applies to business. You should never jump into a fight or argument without considering the circumstances first. If your client begins arguing with you about something, ask yourself: is this argument coming from a mistake you made or from a miscommunication? What are the possible outcomes if you fight back? Is the issue something important to you?


Consider what the best outcome is for yourself and your business and move forward with that in mind. A good example of a battle you may have to decide whether to fight or not is somebody asking for a refund. It’s easy to get frustrated when money is involved. Assuming it’s outlined in your terms and conditions when a refund is appropriate, it’s usually best to consider what’s best for your business rather than respond with your gut reaction. If the situation calls for a refund, give the refund and don’t fight back. If the situation does not call for a refund based on your agreed upon terms, you have to ‘choose your battle’ by considering all the outcomes and hopefully make the best choice for yourself and your business.


3. Acknowledge Positive Change

It’s important to remember that your clients have their own goals in training, but they also show up for you. They agreed to train with you and pay you for your services, so it’s natural that they don’t want to let you down just like you don’t want to let them down.


Make sure your client feels noticed and acknowledge progress or changes, however small. These small things not only build a stronger trainer/client relationship, but it shows you care about your client and will make future problems easier to tackle.


4. Manage Expectations

Furthering the ground rules strategy, it’s important to adapt and continue to set expectations as your relationship with your client continues to grow. One of the biggest reasons disagreements arise is because expectations aren’t met. Regardless of how expectations were formed, when things don’t work out – it’s natural to get upset. Make sure your client knows exactly what to expect from you and what you expect from them – and then don’t let them down. This involves being cognizant of your limits. As things change, adapting expectations to meet both of your needs will help keep you and your client happy and less likely for missed expectations to arise.


5. Change Your Body Language

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. Body language that comes across threatening or disinterested makes tension and ultimately issues more likely to come about.


6. Consider Their Perspective

Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Have you ever had your own trainer? If not, it may be difficult to really see your client’s perspective. Consider taking a few sessions with another trainer if you really want to understand better how it feels from the client’s side. A client will probably be shy and worried about embarrassing themselves if they’re new to working out or new to training. As the trainer, it’s your job to consider these things when interacting with your client and planning sessions. While it’s good to push your clients, you don’t want to put them in a situation where they feel like they need to fight back because they are uncomfortable. The easiest way to avoid this is to define their comfort level in the beginning and consistently monitor how that comfort zone changes.

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