It would be a dream come true if every client that you worked with was easy and that everything went smoothly with no hiccups. Unfortunately that’s not reality. Sometimes things may go sour between you and a client. How do you deal with a difficult client? These experts give us their advice and tips!
William Gadea takes a peacekeeping approach when handling a client that may be a bit more demanding than expected.
Website: Idea Rocket Animation
There’s three steps in handling a difficult client:
First, acknowledge their feelings. It can be something as simple as “I can understand how frustrating that must be.” Often, just this will calm them. If appropriate, also apologize, but at least acknowledge what they’re going through.
Second, give them at least a fig leaf, if you can’t give them all they want. If they’re asking for a discount say, or work beyond the scope, establish what you’re comfortable ceding, and give a little bit to them. (“I don’t usually do this, but in your case…”)
Finally, don’t be a doormat. Establish written and non-ambiguous terms for the work you do at the beginning of the project so you can refer to those terms if needed. If you don’t respect yourself, your client certainly won’t.
Jason Lavis suggests paying attention to clues ahead of time, in order to avoid troublesome clients.
Website: Out of the Box Innovations Ltd.
The best way to deal with difficult clients is not to take them on in the first place. I bet that every single time a difficult client will give plenty of clues in the introductory phase. Remember that the worst clients mean minimum profit and lots of wasted time. This time could be spent on finding better clients.
If you find yourself in the situation of having a difficult client, conduct an audit on the relationship. Look at the number of hours spent on them, and the profit to your company. Even more importantly, ask yourself: are they making my life difficult so that I am not enjoying my days? Are they hampering my ability to do a good job for them and others by cramping my creativity and passion? If so, finish the current contract and become unavailable for future ones.
Chris M. Lyon has been working with clients for 15 years! She’s got some good advice and tips for handling challenging clients.
One way that I have found to work with difficult clients better is to develop and maintain rapport with them, especially in an unconscious way. Meaning that when they are concerned or upset, I talk at the pace, tone and volume that they are talking at, and mirror some of their gestures and posturing. Then, as I adjust my pace, tone, volume, gestures and posture in a more relaxed way, it helps to calm them so they can be more receptive to help.
Another thing I make sure I do is listen to them as they express their issues or concerns fully.
Thirdly, and most importantly, I make sure that I acknowledge to them, in a reassuring tone, that I understand what they are saying and feeling.
I don’t really have a problem with clients who are complaining about my work with them. But often I’ll have clients who may hesitate to cooperate with the process for one reason or another. With those types of clients, I come from more of a permissive approach, for example, asking them if they would be willing to work on or consider something specific that I feel may help them. It seems they feel less threatened or pushed by this and they tend to appreciate the respectful cooperative approach.
Rita Morales suggests establishing very clear boundaries with clients, that way if things go South you can cut ties painlessly.
First, you should try to evaluate your prospects prior to working with them for long term projects by asking them probing questions during the inquiry stage. I like to have some basic questions along with some open ended questions in the initial inquiry. It becomes easier to spot potential problems with the open ended questions.
Secondly, I recommend using a welcome package to help establish boundaries with clients once the project starts. Don’t want to give our your phone number? No problem, tell them how to best communicate with you during your time together.
Finally, in order to avoid any lingering client issues, I provide a ‘goodbye’ package as well to answer any of their questions along with making suggestions for additional products that may be helpful.
And a bonus tip – I like to set my long-term clients up in a project management system instead of trying to manage everything through email. This will help reduce any feelings of overwhelm because it creates clear communication on where you stand with the project at all times.
Caroline Stokes urges the need to make sure that communication is clear and expectations are understood from the beginning.
Difficult clients are often difficult when expectations aren’t managed from the beginning. Draw up a proposal that goes in detail on areas you might expect conflict especially, then make sure you follow up on every aspect. Accountability is key to avoid error and challenging client behaviour, that can keep you up at night.
Get used to having critical conversations and being solution oriented. If you sense the client is dissatisfied in any way, bring it up. Ask them outright – I’m noticing you’re not giving me feedback on this area, shall we have a discussion so we can solve any concerns?’
If your client is outright mean and unreasonable, fire them. I fired a client in SF when they didn’t abide by various ethics and guidelines. Or, more simply – just choose not to work with them when the project is finished. I’ve seen some people raise their rates so high to avoid working with that client again. Work out what’s best for you.
Note from Leslie: It’s hard to let clients go, even the difficult ones because it’s like turning away money. But difficult clients can end up costing you more. First, they tend to take up time complaining, and second, they cause you to spend more time working for them without usually any monetary gain. Finally, it’s no fun. While work isn’t always fun, it shouldn’t be miserable either.
The best step is to have clear policies in place about how you work and expect clients to work with you. Further, make sure communication is good so you understand the project. If a client is still difficult, consider firing them. You don’t have to be nasty about it. Simply say that it’s clear they’re not happy with your work, and suggest they find someone else.
Leslie Truex is an ideaphoric writer, speaker, entrepreneur, social worker and mom trying to do it all from the comfort of her home. Since 1998, she's been helping others create careers they love by providing work-at-home information and resources through Work-At-Home Success.
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