Dealing With Difficult Customers

Turn micromanaging, indecisive, and demanding clients into glowing recommendations

Difficult customers can come in all shapes and sizes; spend any time as a painting contractor and you’ll run into one eventually. Every contractor can probably recall a customer who made their work so difficult that they started to regret taking the job.

Unfortunately, these situations aren’t only frustrating, but can potentially hurt your business’ reputation if not handled correctly. As such, you need to be prepared for these customers in order to stay successful. And in a competitive marketplace where word-of-mouth is king, retaining customers and generating repeat business can grow your bottom line. In this article, we offer suggestions for how to professionally respond to three of the most common types of difficult customers. 

Demanding Customers

Some customers have unrealistic standards or expectations for your work. This can lead to intense scrutiny, criticism, and a feeling that nothing will ever be good enough for them. One key to avoiding these situations is properly setting expectations upfront during the bidding process.

Listen well to your potential customer to determine what they are expecting and whether you can deliver. If they have complaints about the last painter they worked with, make sure those same complaints couldn’t be leveled against your crew. If you have done similar jobs in the past, refer to that work; show them images or, if possible, take them in-person to see the finished product firsthand. If they are unimpressed or want something different than you can offer, learning that now will save both you and the customer a lot of frustration.

Once you’ve come to an agreement, make sure to put everything in writing. This will serve two important purposes. The customer can rest assured that you will be held accountable to do everything you have promised to do. But you can also breathe easier knowing the customer will not invent additional hoops you’ll have to jump through or withhold payment due to petty grievances. By agreeing to the specifications—including the project’s scope and the products used—upfront, you can respectfully stand your ground if the customer attempts to change the terms of the deal mid-project.

Indecisive Customers

Indecisive customers may know that they need their home repainted—and have very little to offer past that. They may vacillate on color choices twice a day, repeatedly push back the start date of a project, or waver over whether to upgrade to a premium paint.

It’s possible these customers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. Narrowing the options down to two or three choices you think could work well—based on your years of experience—may help focus them and break them out of analysis paralysis.

Other times, these customers have an idea in mind but may feel afraid or unqualified to make the final decision. In these cases, consider helping them connect with experts at Sherwin-Williams who can help them identify what they want and move forward with confidence that it’s a good decision. The free Virtual Color Consultations program, available via the Sherwin-Williams PRO+ app, can be a great tool for such customers. 

Micromanaging Customers

The micromanaging customer who hovers around the jobsite, chiming in only to tell you, “You missed a spot,” can be the bane of painting crews. These customers may have had negative experiences in the past with painters who failed to do excellent work. As a result, they may fear that quality will suffer if they’re not around. For these customers, it’s important to make them feel comfortable with you and your team’s professionalism.

You have likely experienced this firsthand when hiring a new painter to your team. The first few times a new hire is on the jobsite, you will scrutinize their work more intensely to make sure they are meeting your company’s standards; you’ll watch them even more carefully if they’ve done something to make you doubt them or if they’ve screwed up in the past. You may remind them of obvious things because you don’t know if they’ll remember on their own. But once they have a track record of success, you no longer watch them any differently than the other painters.

It’s the same with clients. When they believe you will do good work, they will no longer feel it’s necessary to micromanage. If you haven’t worked with this customer before, set a tone of professionalism early. Make a good first impression to get off on the right foot. Arrive on-time. Be prepared. Gently remind them of your history and track record of success.

If a project is delayed, it may cause the customer to get frustrated or feel ignored; they could take this out on you or doubt your commitment. To avoid this, stay in frequent communication with the customer. By keeping them in the loop, you show that you value them, that you’re thinking of them, and that they have no reason to doubt you or your commitment to getting the job done. This relieves the customer of the felt burden of needing to “make sure the painters are doing their work” and relieves your team of a potentially nagging presence.


Dealing with difficult customers is an unavoidable part of running a business. Remember that you are a professional in your industry, and act accordingly. If conflict arises, don’t overreact, respond emotionally, or shift the blame. Do your best to listen to and meet your customer’s needs. If that fails, do your preparation so that you know what you’re talking about and can respectfully disagree when you know you’re right. When the job is done, gather feedback from customers to learn how to better satisfy clients moving forward.

You might have a “bad customer” story when the job is over, but don’t let your customer leave with a “bad painter” story. It’s worth putting in the effort to salvage the relationship with the customer, earn a good review and potential repeat business, and continue building your business.