The Key to Managing Difficult Clients


If you haven’t encountered her yet, you should count yourself lucky.  Because one day, there she’ll be, the Difficult Client.  Demanding immediate turn around times, going outside the scope of services you agreed on, complaining about the quality of your service, and basically consuming all your time and resources.  And you’ll be stumped, because you’ll have no idea what to do about it all except put your head down, work harder, and try to respond to her every request – no matter how outlandish.  Well, I’m here to tell you – we have all been there.  And you do have choices – you can complain about the situation, manage the situation, or leave the situation.  See- you always have choices.

Let’s focus on managing the situation.  There are 5 keys to help you through:

First and foremost – choose clients carefully.

I know, we’ll are looking to get as many clients as we possibly can.  And we’re thrilled when we book a discovery call, because it puts us just that much closer to a sale.  But remember, a discover call isn’t just for the potential client to learn more about you to see if there’s a fit – it’s an opportunity for you to vet the client as well.  What are their expectations, are they reasonable.  How are they dealing with you in and around the call.  Were they on time, did they reschedule multiple times.  Are they demanding or aggressive during the call.  What about the price discussion.  Sure, it’s your responsibility to be clear about the value you can provide, and how you can solve the client’s problem and make their experience better.  But after you’ve done all that, are they still trying to nickel and dime you on price?

Maya Angelu said – when people show you who they are, believe them.

Well, take that to heart.  When the hairs on the back of your neck start rising during a discovery call – listen to your intuition, do more digging, ask more questions.  Really stop and think – will this be a successful pairing.  Will I be able to really have a positive impact for this person.  Will they partner with me and give me the space to really help them?  Because the number 1, and most important key to dealing with a difficult client is to not work with them in the first place.

Next – have clear and frequent communication.  Many times the difficulty isn’t because the client is overly demanding, it’s because he doesn’t really understand what you are doing for him, or needs more information on how the solution will happen, or maybe he just needs to know the status.  You and your team may be working away, and absolutely on target to deliver on the due date.  But to the client, all he knows is he signed the contract, paid the deposit, and hasn’t heard from you in a couple of weeks.  He has no idea if you are working on his engagement, or if you fell off the end of the earth.  And without hearing from you – he is more likely to go with the fell of the end of the earth scenario.  So, make sure you have a timeline and system for providing frequent updates.  I’ll tell you, if you give them, most of the time the client won’t even focus on them – but if you don’t give them, then the client will absolutely notice.

Next up – make sure you clearly understand and set expectations.  It’s part of your job to make sure you understand what outcome the client expects to get from working with you.  For instance, if you’re doing a client’s bookkeeping, does she want to turn it all over and only hear from you once a month with status reports; or does she want someone she can call a few times a week to discuss the company finances.  And in that same vein, it is also part of your job to clearly level set the client’s expectations.  Maybe weekly consultations are actually part of a different, read higher, pricepoint package than the one she chose.  If you don’t clearly communicate that, and level set her expectations, you’re going to have big issues because what she expects will not be what she gets.

“…you do have choices – you can complain about the situation, manage the situation, or leave the situation.”

Here’s a key that is so simple, yet we forget about it all the time.  Listen.

Really listen to the client, not just for what she’s saying, but how she’s saying it.  The more listening you do, the better chance you will gain valuable insight to who she is and what makes her tick.  Back to the bookkeeping example for a moment.  If you keep hearing about how stressed she is, and how expensive everything is, think about what you can do to go above and beyond and perhaps save her some money.

How about offering to contact her vendors to negotiate better payment terms.  When you combine listening and a creative solution, you might easily find a difficult client become a raving fan.

And, if none of the earlier keys work – think about a graceful exit.

Don’t waste another minute trying to figure out how to get your business going and what should come next.

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I know, the first thing that pops in your head is – I don’t want to give up a paying client.  But you have to look at the whole picture.  When you have a difficult client, that is unhappy, and you and your team are giving it your all – it’s a situation just begging for a bad outcome.  She is taking all your resources, which means you have less to give to your other clients.  And it gives you absolutely no time, or headspace, to go out and get new clients.  Also, if you just can’t find a place where you are both happy, you’ll have an unhappy client on your hands – and that can do real damage to your reputation.  And, there is the bigger picture.  You are providing a service to help people.  Either individuals or businesses – your goal is to solve a problem for them.  If your client is so difficult with you – it can’t be a good experience for either of you.  She deserves to work with someone that makes her happy, after all, you want what’s best for you – and you.  So, make sure your contract has flexibility to deal with this type of situation, tell her you want her to have the very best solution, and you feel someone else might be more aligned to her needs.  Wish her well, and exit stage left.

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