How to deal with difficult clients
It may not be immediately obvious, but a large part of running a business involves managing the expectations, behaviours and attitudes of your clients.
Even the most faultless of professionals will, at some stage, come into contact with a challenging customer. Difficult clients can come in a variety of forms: late payers, those who are over-demanding, unreasonable, have overly-high expectations, are always having to be chased, or – in some instances – are just plain rude. Here are some tips on how to deal with them in the best way possible.
It's a well-known expression that prevention is better than cure, and - in the case of your clients - this can be achieved through continuous communication. Talking to your customer (over the phone - not just email) on a regular basis will ensure a better client relationship. A little extra effort can go a long way in making them feel special. As a result, they are much more likely to talk to you sensibly if they have a problem, rather than pointing the finger.
Keep an up to date work in progress spreadsheet with current actions and forthcoming tasks to illustrate what you are working on for your client. Running through it at meetings helps maintain focus and demonstrates that you are adding value to your client's organisation.
Have a thorough proposal
To avoid clients adding extras to a project, and expecting them at no additional cost, put together a detailed proposal at the very beginning. This will outline exactly what the client can expect to receive from their investment in you. Going forward, it also acts as a reference point if a tricky client dispute whose was responsible for a certain action.
You may have a client who is highly-demanding, and has a very defined idea of what they want without listening to your expertise. If you are certain their idea would be detrimental to their business objectives, have the confidence to (respectfully) tell them this and explain exactly why it wouldn't work. Don't be afraid to use past experiences to illustrate your point.
Difficult clients are usually even more awkward if the proposed solution doesn't suit their requirements. The sooner you can come up with the right one, the quicker the situation can be diffused. When presenting new ideas, give your client options on how to proceed. If you only present them with one path, and they aren't comfortable with it, it will only increase their frustration and put more strain on your relationship.
Know when enough is enough
Manage expectations and be polite about it, but if the client is simply unpleasable, you may need to consider parting company. If they are proving to be so difficult it is causing you unnecessary stress and little return, it may come to a stage where you need to break the relationship. Try to do so without burning any bridges, in a professional and polite manner. Client supplier relationships always work best when both parties are benefitting from the collaboration - if it's not working for either party, there is little point continuing as you'd both be better working with other clients - and it's worth reminding your client this.