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How to Deal With Difficult Clients

Difficult clients are an unpleasant fact; they wantonly pop their thankless heads on a regular basis. These customers can drain your energy, make you cringe, can be slow to pay and always seem to find you. They tend to view themselves as efficient and are determined to trash anyone who crosses their path. Trying to see things from their perspective may not help appease either. Some malevolent people are rarely conscious of their hideous behavior and the depressing effect it has on others. They make you want to kick them to the curb but you may either be too scared that the boss will skin you alive or cannot afford to lose a client.

To deal effectively with irate clients, learn to identify them by species; they come in a wide variety. This includes know-it-alls, the ultra-hands-ons, last-minute-changers, the fighters and the never-happys, among others. The fighters are easily provoked because they believe that everything in life is a fight. This breed of nutty individuals is decidedly uber-competitive. Know-it-alls are easier to recognize and make up the majority of difficult customers. Apparently, they are experts at doing your job but for some odd reason they hired you.


1. Set the Ground Rules

To bring sanity to your relationship with a client, particularly the high-maintenance kind; you must set some rules. Many clients behave like children and need to be controlled from the outset by a code of conduct that dictates the terms of the relationship. In some cases, the client must sign a contract that covers standard terms in addition to frivolous things like off-the-clock and weekend phone calls.

Every stage of the project should require a signoff. In addition, the customer must agree that certain project decisions are final (barring any hurricanes or tsunamis). Keep in mind that the fighters can still find a reason to harass you regardless of the rules but at least they may respect you for laying the boundaries of battle. On the other hand, the never-happys will probably just frown at everything, including the rules.

2. Recognize an Oil-And-Water Scenario

Interpersonal complexities have the capacity to create irreconcilable differences between a customer and a member of staff. Such scenarios may necessitate the reassignment of the client to another member of your staff to avert loss of business. It’s also practical to ask the customer to pick a staff member they comfortable working with, so they don’t feel slighted. By doing so, you will be providing exemplary customer service.

3. Use Anti-Rehash Visual Tools

Ultra-hands-ons, know-it-alls and the never-happys love rehashing resolved issues a thousand times over. To prevent time wasting when confronted with a fuming client, try jotting down the points raised on a paper or a whiteboard (the latter is appropriate when communicating via a video link like Skype). The visual component allows you to redirect the client to new issues rather than unnecessarily reiterating points that have already been covered. Each time the customer strays to redundant items, simply point to the paper or whiteboard as a reminder that it’s solved and the conversation must move on.

4. Walk Away Early

Although it can be very difficult to identify a prospect from hell before an account is opened, try to assess their mindset in your interactions. It’s easier and inconsequential to ditch a prospect than a customer – there are no refunds or bad reviews. Find a good excuse to brush them aside: cite lack of resources to handle the new account or being fully booked as excuses. The know-it-alls are the easiest to detect; they can’t help but try to make you feel inadequate from the onset. If you don’t walk away from a troublesome prospect; they will later rile you by forcing themselves into your workflow, heedless of either protest or invitation. Some may even demand access to you at whim.

5. Change the Conversation

The majority of difficult customers make unreasonable demands because of their fixation on a certain item or deliverable. They will not budge in spite of attempts to appease or negotiate. If the conversation starts to heat up without any meaningful progress, it is best to change the subject. Instead, divert the client’s attention to something more encouraging that can get their attention.

6. It’s Fine to Say No

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While it pays to adhere to the notion that the customer is always right, not all scenarios can be treated as such. Patience keeps the clients happy but when a client oversteps the line by making outlandish demands, you have the right to say no. Let the client know you understand their request and explain why it cannot be carried out. Clearly outline the consequences of acting otherwise. Honesty allows you to act in your company’s best interests as opposed to bending backwards at great cost. If the customer keeps adding actionables to the list beyond what’s contained in the initial contract, bill them. If they protest, then bring sanity by declining.

7. Use Specific Measurable Objectives

It is common for irate clients, including those with reasonable concerns to just want to vent or unload on you at great length because they can. In most cases, such customers will resort to generalizations because there is nothing specific to point out. Resolve the issue by asking the client to make specific references to the nagging matters. If a valid concern is raised, propose measurable solutions, such as timeframes. Make an effort to verify whether they are happy with your proposal.

8. Prepare the Client for Bad News

If you find yourself needing to deliver bad news to a difficult client, lay the groundwork and go slowly. Begin by introducing the issues you want to discuss and acknowledge the customer’s desired outcome. Blurting the news without preparing the customer can easily set them off. Once the bad news has been delivered, provide alternative strategies capable of moving the matter forward. Allow the customer to give feedback on the available options.

To develop a good rapport with problem clients; you need to shape their expectations in all your dealings. Doing so, helps minimize the potential for conflict. Clients need to have a realistic understanding surrounding costs, service, timeframes and results. Inconsistencies create a hotbed for dissatisfaction and dispute. However, the most unruly clients can still trigger discord without valid reason, it is best to avoid giving them any ammunition.

Client relationships work a lot like marriages, they meld communication, trust and in some cases legal documents. They go through wide-ranging stages (both good and bad) and may not last until death do them part. If the relationship ends, usually the client delivers the blow. However, companies do fire errant customers too. Make an effort to maintain integrity by not allowing bad customers to ruin your work culture or the moral of your staff. Oftentimes, this entails undertaking a detailed analysis of the relationship with a problem client.

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Clients from hell, share three things: they frustrate the entire staff, monopolize your time and habitually make unreasonable demands. Although it can be practical to agree with an irate customer as a means to disarm them, it does not always work. However, agreement may make the client lower their weapons of retaliation and exhale a bit. This averts a full-bloodied squabble that could cause irreparable damage to your working relationship. If you respond in agreement, it shows you have been listening and that you don’t think they are an idiot for seeing things the way they do.

SOURCES
American Express
Inc.com
Smashing Magazine