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It takes a lot of reflective listening and the right mental attitude to deal with a difficult client. Here are ways to handle the situation like a pro.
When managing a business, there are good days, and then there are bad days. The same thing goes if you’re dealing with people. Most times, you’ll interact with easygoing and friendly clients. Other times, you’ll deal with difficult ones. Alas, such is the life of an aspiring entrepreneur!
The most frustrating part about dealing with difficult clients is that you want to keep them, but they’re making it extremely hard to do so.
So what constitutes a difficult client, and how do you handle one? How do you maintain a pleasant working relationship with a difficult client? Here are a few tips to help you figure things out:
Most difficult clients have unrealistic expectations because they want to get more out of the deal. That’s normal, but if the situation borders on being abusive, you need to draw the line.
You can avoid unrealistic goals or expectations by setting expectations from the very beginning, communicating with the client often, and giving a realistic timeline REPEATEDLY. This is one of those cases when you want to ~ as realistic as possible ~ as far as the project’s progress goes instead of trying to impress the client with a faster turnaround time. This way, the client knows what can be achieved at the deadline.
It is hard to get anything done when a client doesn’t know what his responsibilities in the project are. You need to let them know exactly what you expect of your partnership with them. Stay in touch with them so that they stay on top of what they need to know. Most of the time, the client plays a central role in the project – s/he could be making important decisions, provide the right materials, coordinate with other parties to the project, or lead the meetings to check for progress. If the client does not understand what he’s supposed to do, the project could go through a few setbacks.
In most cases, the clients will take a proactive role in the project. His contribution could be anything from making decisions, providing content/materials, or coordinating with other parties contributing to the project.
If the client is passive or not doing anything at all, you need to be straightforward with your client. Let him or her know that the project needs more direction, and the decisions are often not up to you. Take communication to the next level so that the client knows what is expected of him or her while working on the project.
You'll often get an idea of how hard or easy it is to work with a client during the project’s initial phase. If the client shows signs that he's challenging to deal with, you need to set boundaries early. The good news is, you can control how you react to your client's antics, and most times, you have the upper hand. So be firm, set boundaries, and stick to it.
Some demanding clients would toe the line between being assertive and being a bully. Don’t let anyone, especially a client, bully you into doing things that you don’t want to.
If he starts calling you off-hours even if you clearly said that you are not available, insisting on finishing last-minute tasks, or getting irate when expectations are not being met, you need to draw the line. If he is starting to become rude during meetings, ignores your boundaries even if you’ve set these repeatedly, or asks for the moon, girl, you need to take a step back and re-think if he makes a good fit in your company.
We hate to say it, but sometimes, we enable bad behaviours by tolerating them. Agreeing with a client all the time might backfire because the client could end up assigning tasks that are beyond the scope of the contract or your expertise. You don’t have to agree with a client all time; acknowledge the client’s position but learn to set your foot down. Direct the conversation to the resolution if they are complaining but stop short at doing more than expected of you.
Misunderstandings are often caused by poor communication. If you haven’t been clear about what you’d like to get out of the project, you need to be honest with your client. This goes especially if you're only communicating to a client over chat or email. You can't figure out the tone that the client is using, so it's easy to misunderstand certain aspects of the conversation. When communication doesn't have a tone, you end up reading between the lines, leading to more misunderstandings.
Take communication to the next level by arranging a video call with your client. Some people hate taking calls, but it’s vital if certain aspects of the project are unclear to you or the client is becoming frustrated with your work process. This is also an excellent opportunity to be honest about your feelings over how the client has been handling things.
One thing though, always take the high road. Don’t be rude, and always keep an open mind. If a client is rude, there's no need to dish it back to them. Lashing out won't do you any good, and most times, this will cause damage to your brand. Your client could end up leaving a terrible review on your website or bash you on your Facebook page. It’s hard to be polite during tough convos with a client but do it if it means preserving your brand.
Be sure you have one. Your contract should outline the assignments that you agree to work on. If the client made a habit out of making small requests outside the scope of the agreement, a little reminder that this is not a part of your job would put a stop to that. But say so in a way that won't put the client off. You have to be firm but kind and move forward from the issue quickly without drama.
It's hard not to feel attacked when dealing with a difficult client, but most times, it's not the case at all. The client could be having a bad day, or you've misinterpreted their email because you’re frustrated. Keep an open mind, communicate with your client to get to the bottom of the issue, and don’t make any personal comments unless you are sure of the tone of the message.
Be proactive. If specific issues crop up and these have hampered the project’s progress, ask the client how to solve these so you can move forward. Figure out the best solution to the problem, so it doesn't lead to disagreements. It’s a tough conversation, but it should be done to make your job easier.
It takes a lot of reflective listening and the right mental attitude to deal with a difficult client. You have to stay calm, listen and figure out the root cause of the problem. Practice active listening and then explain the steps you'll take to solve the problem. But stop short at being your client’s emotional punching bag. Deal with the situation as professionally as possible but be firm if the client is starting to cross the line.
Often, minor misunderstandings could be sorted out by taking a step back, choosing your words carefully, and learning where the client is coming from. But if the client has become irate or rude, it’s time to reassess the relationship and figuring out if the project is worth the insanity.
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