How to Deal with Difficult Clients
Everyone who deals with people, from the cashier worker at a fast food restaurant to the CEO of a major global company, has to deal with difficult clients at some point. Upset customers, picky partners, and angry service recipients are just a fact of life, and no matter how perfect your product, difficult clients will find some way to make your life harder. In fact, the larger and more successful your company, the more likely you are to be confronted with difficult clients that have a lot of anger and probably not too much to be upset about.
So what can you do to deal with these nightmare individuals, those difficult clients who seem divinely inspired to make your job harder? As a business leader, service provider, or contractor, what should you do to minimize the stress and damage that bad client relationships can create?
Learn to Identify Difficult Clients
Sometimes, problems arise with clients that have nothing to do with the clients themselves. If a product isn’t delivered when it should be, a miscommunication occurs, or some other event occurs that stresses a relationship with a client, that client may react in ways that surprise you. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are difficult clients. What defines a difficult client is an air of pre-existing drama that translates into a “I’m going to be challenging to work with” mentality, independent of how well you perform or how smoothly things go. So how can you identify truly difficult clients?
First, from your first interactions with a client, try to get a sense of their personality and how they let it influence their business transactions. While some of the most rational and efficient business leaders may be emotionally volatile and unfocused as soon as they get off the clock, for the most part, you will be able to predict some potential future ugliness with a client based on some personality traits that manifest themselves from day one.
Does your client seem to be very indecisive? This may turn into some relationship shaking difficulty down the road. Does your client like to get things their way, and doesn’t show much interest in compromising? Beware: they could be one of the most difficult types of clients you ever deal with. While some of these personality traits and other may take a while to manifest themselves, part of being a good business leader is the ability to quickly read people, and you can pick up more about a client’s personality in your first meeting with them than you might expect.
A big part of identifying difficult clients is following your business instincts. While it’s true you should never judge a book by it’s cover, you can fairly quickly get a good idea of what kind of client you will be dealing with, just based on their personality and some other telltale warning signs. Read on for how to deal with some of the most common types of difficult clients you will encounter.
3 Types of Difficult Clients, and How to Handle Them
If you are following your business intuition and find yourself wondering if a client is going to be difficult, check our list below and see if they fit into one of these three categories.
The Impatient Instigator
This client is so obsessed with deadlines, they want to be sure that metrics are hit long before they are even due. The Impatient Instigator doesn’t care much about your client load, your schedule, or your work pace: all they care about is that you finish their order as quickly as possible, no ifs ands or buts about it. And in addition to being bad at waiting, the Impatient Instigator isn’t shy about getting in your face and asking about your progress. They love to stir up drama, mostly based around their inability to be patient and wait for you to do your job.
To deal with this kind of difficult client, give yourself some boundaries and stick to them. The Impatient Instigator may ask for progress updates every day or even more often. When this happens, let them know that you can provide a weekly or biweekly progress update, but that constant communications slow down your workflow. Then, stick to whatever update schedule you have decided upon and don’t get roped into more often check-ins. With this type of difficult client, you need to be on time and deliver promptly like you should with every client, but past that level of professionalism you don’t own them special consideration just because they are impatient.
The Hands off Hazard
At first appearance, this kind of difficult client seems like a dream come true, as they let you work independently and give you a lot of creative freedom to meet goals. But despite the ease of initial interactions, there is a lot to be weary of when working with this type of difficult client. They don’t get too involved in your work and don’t have too much to say about your performance, instead letting you work hard with little guidance. That is, until you are close to delivering or have finished a project, at which time the Hands off Hazard makes it abundantly clear that you haven’t met their expectations.
To deal with this type of difficult client, do everything you can to get them to commit to their goals and expectations from the start of your interactions. Ask for an official description of what they want to see, and get as many details you can before you get started with their order. Then, even if they remained hands off throughout the rest of your work process, you can show them how close your final product is to their original order, and you will be protected from demands for refunds or or hazards.
The Perilous Penny Pincher
Almost every client you work with will have a keen understanding of saving money, but this client takes it to the illogical extreme. Maybe because they don’t have the budget to afford your service but are trying to make it work anyway, or maybe because they think you should be working for less, the Perilous Penny Pincher finds ways to try to undercut your budget projections at every corner. And they are so intent on saving money, they don’t care if your service or product is damaged as a result.
To deal with this client, make it as clear as possible what they are spending their money on. And let them know, directly and as clearly as possible, that trying to cut corners will impact the product they receive. This client can become truly difficult if they think that they can pay you less for the same quality work that you should be getting paid in full for, so as long as you make it clear that your work is valued based on quality, their penny pinching won’t be as much of an issue.
The Backup Plan
If you have one of the clients above and our tips don’t lead to sustainable interactions, or if you have a different type of difficult client that you can’t quite figure out, you will need a back-up plan. There are some difficult clients that you won’t ever be able to please, and you shouldn’t spend your whole life trying. When you find yourself in this position, and you have tried everything you can think of and have time for to improve interactions, it may time to dump a client all together.
While this approach can be hard, especially for smaller businesses or younger professionals who haven’t encountered too many difficult clients in the past, it can be absolutely necessary. First and foremost, you have to protect your business and client base as a whole, and if one client throws off your ability to deliver across the board, they have to go. Of course, you shouldn’t take this action lightly, but sometimes as a backup plan, you need to remove yourself from the situation and let a client go. When this happens, keep moving, look for the next client, and don’t dwell on what you could or should have done to make that difficult client relationship work. Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do.
You will have difficult clients. Everyone does. Don’t be too surprised when you meet your first nightmare client, who seems to have made it their mission to make your life harder. Maybe you are dealing with the Hands Off Hazard, who won’t give you any guidance until it’s too late. Or Maybe you face the Impatient Instigator, who needs work NOW and isn’t shy about letting you know. No matter what kind of client you are dealing with, try to keep things clear and professional, and revisit our tips above.
And always remember, there are some difficult clients that’s just won’t work out. Don’t be too hard on yourself in these situations. Remove yourself from the situation instead, and don’t be shy about letting the most difficult clients go.