The client." Those of us in the professional world know this seemingly benign phrase and have learned that is to be respected and, at times, feared. Don’t get us wrong; we love the client. Without the client, we wouldn’t have jobs. The client literally puts food on our table and, for them, we are grateful.
But there exists a constant power struggle between the client and the professional. Given the possibility that a client could turn to your competitor if there’s a service-related issue, it’s important that you know how to deftly navigate this struggle, lest you lose your bread and butter.
Here, I’m going to give you 10 tips for dealing with difficult clients so you don’t lose your head -- or your paycheck.
Clearly Define What’s Expected
The first thing you’ll want to do when dealing with a new client (or an existing client with a new project) is to clearly define what’s expected with regard to the scope of the project. For instance, if you’re a designer, are you going to be overhauling a website, or simply updating a few of the graphics?
This is not to say you shouldn’t take on more work if it comes your way (more on that later), but have a clear idea of who you’ll need and for how much time.
Here’s what stinks: agreeing that you’ve got a month to do a project and then three weeks in, the customer needs it tomorrow. It’s only a few days earlier, they say. What’s the big deal?
Establish Clear Time Tables
It’s a big deal because you’ve budgeted your time and people power to have this project done on a certain date and you expected to have until that date, right? Right off the bat, establish a timetable, and not just some vague time in the future but a specific date and, I’ve even gone as far as a specific time on that specific date: end of day, beginning of the day, three o’clock, whatever you decide, but make it stick.
Put It In Writing
After you’ve done all this, put it in writing and have all the main players sign off on it. I can count on my fingers and toes the number of new companies I’ve seen enter “handshake deals” with clients and then end up with more work than they can handle. This can be great if you’ve got the manpower but, more often than not, you’ll get dragged down, miss deadlines and everyone ends up unhappy.
If you’re a business, I assume you’ve got some semblance of a legal department, but if you’re independent, there are some great resources to help you get an idea of what this kind of contract should look like.
Have A Single Point Of Contact
Draw straws, have a beer pong contest, a sack race or just let the new guy do it, but determine a single point of contact for a given project. There’s nothing worse than when a client doesn’t know who to call and ends up calling literally everybody.
Don’t Be Afraid To Say "No"
If you’ve worked with this client before, don’t be surprised if they call you in the middle of a project and say something along the lines of this: “Hey, we need you to do some extra work on the project. We know we didn’t agree to it but we’re willing to pay a little more.”
This can be a good problem to have, but workplace stress and burnout are becoming huge problems in America and one of the leading causes of mental health issues that lead to employee turnover. If you’ve already got a full plate, don’t keep slopping on more food. Chances are, the client will understand. Plus, you’ve got the contract to back you up, right?
Don’t Be Afraid To Say "Yes"
On the other hand, if you think you can take on more work, by all means go for it. Just keep the above statement in mind.
Don’t Minimize Their Issues
When issues come up (and they will come up) the worst thing you can do is minimize their issues by brushing them off either implicitly or explicitly.
Instead, let the client know that you hear them and are going to take steps to remedy what’s wrong. Of course, sometimes their issues in no way relate to you or your work and they're likely just blowing off steam in your general direction (this happens more than you think). Either way, hear them out and treat them with respect.
Make It RightIf there was a mistake on your end, take steps to immediately make it right:
• Take responsibility.
• Offer them something. If the mistake was major, a discount on this project -- or better yet, future services -- might be in order. If the mistake was minor, the apology should do.
• Take steps not to let it happen again.
Never Lose Your Cool
Above all, never lose your cool in front of a client. Have it out with your staff at happy hour, but don’t do it in the meeting room. There are plenty of steps you can take if things start to get heated in the workplace to ameliorate the pressure and make sure things don’t blow up.
Don’t Fear Walking Away
Finally, if things just aren’t going the way either of you had imagined, maybe it’s time to break up. Many times, an amicable separation is better than delivering subpar work to an unhappy client, so don’t be afraid to walk away. Or, if they’re being particularly cruel or mean-spirited (yes, these people exist), don’t be afraid to fire them. There will be other clients, I promise.
I hope you never have to deal with a problem client, but in the event that you do, hopefully, you’ll find these tips helpful. Good luck out there!
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