Medicine for the Headache Clients
Over the course of business we’re bound to cross paths with a client who makes us want to scream, hide, or throw our computer out the window. Heck, we might have been that customer. I know I’ve come close when stuck on the phone with the cable company for three hours.
If everything in the business world flowed in perfect harmony there’d be no need for signed contracts, bidding, refunds, or pressing three to speak to a representative in retention. That’s not the world we live in. Business happens.
First, let’s identify some different types of problem clients.
This type of client thinks they know everything about your business. In fact, they’re pretty sure they know more than you do.
The know-it-all is more than happy to tell you how you should be doing things.
The Piece of Cake:
This challenging client assumes that everything you do is easy. They have no real understanding of what it takes for you to be successful.
By thinking everything is easy, they assume your work can be done fast and cheap.
The World is on Fire:
This person is in a constant state of panic because everything is an emergency.
They think everything needs to be done immediately for them. This is the client who stares at their inbox waiting for your reply.
The Nickel & Dimer:
This client is always looking for a rebate, discount, or any type of price reduction.
They will often harass you for a deal or pit you against another firm, threatening to go elsewhere.
The Just Plain Nasty:
Are any of these types of clients recognizable? Have you come face-to-face with any of these creatures in the wild? If you have, I’m sure you’ll agree that they [the pain in the @#% clients] can have a serious impact on you and your business.
Trouble clients can be draining on you, your staff, your reputation, and your finances. They may pay late, demand discounts, or not pay at all. They can consume massive amounts of you and your staff’s valuable time, time you can't spend working with wonderful clients. Difficult clients can cause unnecessary stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure. And with today’s technology, your reputation is now a click away from being at risk. These clients are beasts and they make us feel out of control and ready to...
Steps to Dealing With Difficult Clients
Respond quickly to these types of clients, without being at their immediate beck and call. Making them wait to hear back from you will only make the situation worse. You don't want them to feel like you don’t care or worse yet, that they’re not important enough for you to reply, but you need to keep clear boundaries. Reply with solutions. Acknowledge that they have identified a problem, real or imagined, and that you are available to them to begin the healing process.
Stay calm. Take any problems with your clients seriously, not personally. Even if they make personal comments understand they might be speaking emotionally and not rationally. You’re the voice of reason, don’t be offended- be patient. Your body language, word choice, and tone of voice will influence and impact your client. Very often a client will mirror your behavior and begin to settle down if you remain calm, cool, and respectful.
Listen. Paraphrasing one of my favorite quotes from Stephen Covey, “Listen with the intent to understand not the intent to reply.”. Your client wants to vent, complain, and most of all be heard. Practice patience and refrain from replying too quickly. Ask for details and seek to clarify any situations or confusion. Be appreciative that they’re coming to you with this and acknowledge the need for fixing the situation. Do not apologize or agree to any fault, just address the need for repair.
Identify the problem. After thoughtfully listening to your client’s problem you’ll want to confirm that you’re on the same page. Repeat the problem back to them and ask for their confirmation. Clarify any misunderstood expectations or communications that may have transpired. Make sure you completely understand what the client’s problem is.
Come up with solutions. Be accountable for the part you have played in any miscommunications, but don't own more than your share just to placate a client. If the client is wrong, don’t finger point. Use the wording from any contracts, bids, or policies you have in place to explain (not accuse) where the confusion may have come from. Assure the client that you will work with them to ensure a fair resolution. Whatever the solutions are, make sure you get the client’s agreement that they are acceptable. This can be done with a confirmation email or a new contract agreement.
Cut ‘em loose. Sometimes you just have to release the beast back into the wild. Yes, you can fire a client. When you’ve exhausted all efforts to make them happy the best decision can be to cut your losses. Make sure you have all contractual work finished, be polite, and perhaps recommend a company that can better service their needs. Give them the ol’ “It’s not you, it’s me.” You’ll want to be a fountian of kindness and gratitude. You never know when they’re going to talk about you and you want them to have positive things to say even if you weren’t able to meet their needs as they demanded.
Learn. Some of the best lessons for your business can be learned from a difficult client. Humility is your ally. What could you have done differently to make the situation go better? What could be done in the future to keep an incident from happening again? Did you do everything you could to meet their needs at an appropriate professional level, in other words are you sure it was them and not you? Are there training lessons to be learned? Should you tweak a system? Good or bad, there’s always a takeaway for next time.
Over the years, a majority of my best customers/clients have been born from an initial problem/incident/situation. It wasn’t me giving away the farm, or bending over backwards to make them happy. It was listening to what they had to say, treating them with respect, and remedying the situation fairly that became the foundation for a strong relationship.
Problems are going to happen, it’s inevitable. The best way to deal with a difficult client is to try to identify and avoid potential problems from the get go. Easier said than done, I know. Review your systems, scour your reviews, and ask the clients you have good relationships with for their feedback. By doing a bit of work periodically you might just see the potential of a problem before it happens. Being proactive is the best medicine. It will save you time, money, your reputation, and a whole lot of headaches, but it doesn't hurt to have a bottle of aspirin handy for those extra special clients!