No matter how good your product or service is, it is just a matter of time before you have your first encounter with the client from hell. You simply cannot avoid it. Typically this person will want to take up all of your time so that you can focus on their project or issue, frustrate you and your team and haggle with you endlessly to get more than they paid for, or lower your prices.
There are few things to keep in mind when dealing with difficult clients.
- Your most difficult clients will probably not generate the majority of your income. The 80:20 rule says that when it comes to client relationships, 80% of your resources will be used managing just 20% of your clients. Or, that 80% of your headaches will come from 20% of your clients. The clients that cause the most headaches probably generate about 20% of your revenue.
- People may say that all press is good press, but, if you are just getting started, you don’t want bad reviews getting out about your business. Even just one bad review can greatly impact your ability to attract new (and better clients).
Knowing this is not enough. If you’ve been fortunate enough not to have any terrible clients yet, you want to be proactive and develop some Standard Operating Procedures for you and your team to use, if and when an issue arises. With this in mind, here a few strategies on how to deal with your difficult clients.
The “I’m not really sure what I want” client:
This client has a constant change of heart about their project. He’ll say one thing on the phone but will send an email later that sends the project in a completely different direction. This client is stressful because whenever you think you’re on the right track, they change their mind. You want to give the client what they want, but how can you do that when they don’t even know what that is?
How to deal with this client: Get everything in writing once you reach a decision. If they agree to a course of action via phone, confirm that with an email right after. Reject all course changes after that.
The “I assumed this was included” client:
This client insists on getting more and more out of your team during every interaction. They want to meet or talk frequently to expand the scope of work. They may use words like “simple changes”, “easy to do”, or “its just a…”.
How to deal with this client: When work is started all of your clients should receive a work agreement. This document is a legally binding contract that details what work you will be performing for them. When your client asks to add on additional work outside of the original scope, agree to do it for an added upfront cost.
The “I needed this done yesterday” client:
This client seems to have a general lack of understanding of the time-space continuum. They believe that they are your only client or responsibility, and that you are sitting at your desk waiting for them to contact you for work, which you will immediately complete at lightening speed. This client is difficult because their lack of consideration for your personal space can be nonexistent if you don’t set boundaries early on.
How to deal with this client: Be straightforward. Give clients a clear timeframe for work completion at the beginning. If they return expecting the impossible, remind them of the timelines, then, share that you can have the work expedited for an additional upfront fee.
The “I don’t’ really care, just do whatever you want” client:
This client wants to be completely hands off, that’s why they hired you. They won’t give you any information, even when you press them for it. This type of client can be a sort of gift horse. On the one hand, they may actually mean it, and want you to take total creative direction, and go with whatever you say. However, on the other hand, this type of client has a tendency to say this upfront, but once the project is complete, express their dissatisfaction and give feedback that would have been valuable earlier in the project.
How to deal with this client: Take advantage of the freedom, but always require client buy in at critical stages of the project to prevent reworking. Suggesting a few options for the client, and asking them to select from the choices provided is a good way to do that. Also, always be sure to confirm everything in writing. Email is the best way to do that.
The “I know exactly what I want” client:
This client comes to you with a very specific approach. They know exactly what they want down to the most minute details. They reject your input and direction, even they did hire you, and you are the expert/professional. Your see a mile off why their attempts won’t work, but you are a little afraid of losing their business if you disagree.
How to deal with this client:
Be clear on what he’s trying to accomplish, but don’t be afraid to frankly share why it won’t work. You are the professional, and you know what you’re doing. If the client continues to work with you on the project, they’ll appreciate your honesty and frankness in the end, especially after the project succeeds. And if they leave, you maintain your reputation by not working on a failing project. Win-win.
The “I don’t know what I want, but I know this isn’t it” client
This client may not know what she wants but she knows that she doesn’t want anything that you’re proposing. This client is tough because they pretend as if they know it all. If a client doesn’t like your ideas, it’s easy to be offended, especially when they can’t tell you why they don’t like it.
How to deal with this client: If the client is unable to offer you any suggestions and doesn’t want to take your professional advice, it may be best to part ways. Do all that you can before you get to this point to get the client to give you some direction or examples of things they do like. If that still doesn’t work, you may need to fire that client.
The “What’s the weekend?” client:
This client will send emails at 3am on a Saturday, and get upset when you don’t respond by 7am Sunday morning. They want to schedule meetings and conference calls after business hours and may even call you unexpectedly at 11pm to discuss their project. They want you to work holidays, your birthday and every waking hour of every day. This client can drain you and cause you to burn out if you don’t set clear boundaries.
How to deal with this client: Avoid giving out your cell phone or personal number to start with. The first time the client contacts you outside of normal business hours, don’t respond unless it is a complete emergency. During normal business hours, respond, but never apologize for “not getting back to them over the weekend”. If the behaviors continue, don’t be afraid to let them know. The longer it goes on, the more probable it is to take a toll on your team.
The “Won’t this take 5 minutes?” client:
This client thinks that she can do what you do, better and in much shorter time. They tend to be condescending and arrogant, often demeaning the quality of your work. It puzzling because they hired you to help complete the project, but pretend as if they know more than you do.
How to deal with this client: Let the person know clearly how much time and resources go into completing their project, and reiterate the timelines you agreed to.
The “Lurker” client:
This client may disappear for weeks or months at a time, then magically reappear with tons of questions, updates and requests. They want to have the project completed immediately, despite their lack of participation. This client can be scary if you tend to operate by the “out of sight-out of mind” rule.
How to deal with this client: The best way to deal with this client is to constantly check in with them. If they’re not responding to your calls or messages, that totally ok, just as long as you are following up an checking with them regularly. I’d suggest at least once a month. If you are waiting for information from the client in order to get started, let them know that the longer it takes for them to send it to you, the longer the process will take to be completed. But on the other hand, if you have everything that you need from the client to get started, you should start and finish the project on schedule.
The “What you did was great, but now I want something different” client:
This client is the dream client. They love your ideas, they love your work, and they are dream to work with. Until you deliver the final project. Then they drop a bombshell on you, they love what you did, but they want to go in a different direction entirely. This client is difficult because you never ever see it coming.
How to deal with this client: The easiest way to deal with this client is to make it clear to them that additional costs will apply if they are asking for an entirely new project. While it is customary for clients to want to make changes and edits, completely new scopes of work are not included in the original price quote.
Customers and clients come in all shapes, sizes and personality types. The longer you are in business, the more likely you will come into contact with one or all of these types of clients. Good business development and leadership development requires that you learn how to handle all of these various situations in a way that benefits both you and your clients’ business interests.
If you are a service business, as you add more clients it may get difficult to keep track of all the things you do for every client. Get in the habit of documenting every week all the work you do for your clients. Develop customer management weekly checklist for your business. These checklists will not only help you keep track of your clients and improve your relationships with them, but also create a framework of Standard Operating Procedures for your business. Use the checklist below as a starting point, edit as needed:
Weekly Client Checklist
Contract on file ____Yes ____N
Target Project Completion Date ______
Was client inform of:
- Scope of Work ________
- Early termination/refund policy ______
Weekly client check up
Week Of _________
Tasks performed for this client:_______________________________________________________________
Communication with client:
Email ____ phone____ meeting_____
Any new information: ____________________________________________________