We’ve all had that stubborn client who thinks they know better and goes against all of your basic beliefs and work process. It’s a pain, no doubt, and managing a client who does everything possible to avoid being managed is territory we’d all prefer to sidestep at any cost necessary.
But, whatever you do, don’t panic and don’t irrationally burn bridges!
You’ll have some clients that are absolute pleasures to work with. And then you’ll have others who are, for lack of better phrasing, less pleasant to work with. That’s just the nature of the beast – and it’s totally okay.
Despite your impulse reaction torch your project and run for the woods – there’s no need to throw in the towel just because your client is difficult or stubborn.
Even when it seems like your client is steering you in all the wrong directions, you do have options to explore.
Remind your client that you’re on the same team
Ever heard the phrase “there’s no such thing as a bad child, only bad behavior”? Keep the same perspective with your clients. It’s not necessarily that they’re awful, it’s that they’re behaving poorly. Remember that you both want the same thing – to execute a successful project – so be proactive and work together. Tell your clients that you’re on their side and want to make their vision a reality. Doing so may change the entire dynamic of your relationship for the better.
Direct your client back to the contract when necessary
Going above and beyond for your client is very different than being taken advantage of. Don’t hesitate to woo your client, but if they’re upset because you haven’t done something you never agreed to do, referencing the contract will work wonders.
While it is okay to flex on occasion for your client, you should try your best to stick to the terms you’d agreed upon originally. When your client wants more, let them know this was not included in the original project scope and charge them at your hourly overage rate. Your time is valuable and clearly your client recognizes that or else they wouldn’t have hired you in the first place. If they see the value in your services, they’ll agree to the overage costs. If they push back on the overage fees, then don’t do the extra work.
Talk about how to talk – what’s the best way to communicate?
Some clients don’t care how you get to the finish line, only that you do. Other clients prefer updates every step of the way. When red flags are beginning to show as you work with your client, it’s good to sit down and ask how they prefer you communicate updates, positive or negative. Offer a few suggestions – maybe they would benefit from a weekly touch-point call or even a nightly summary email of the day’s work. Either way, you’ll need to know in advance how to let them know you’ve hit a roadblock. Should a roadblock arise and your client reacts poorly to the news, you’ll be able to reference the conversation you had regarding communication expectations.
Don’t hide behind the computer screen
Avoid adding fuel to any flames when difficult conversations with your clients arise. In an effort to engage in a healthy conversation, suggest meeting in person with your client. People tend to feel bolder when they’re hiding behind the curtain of an email or passive aggressive text message thread.
If your client brings up their frustration via email or text, kindly suggest that you’d prefer to meet in person. If that’s not possible, suggest a video call. Remind your client that you want to make things right and the best way to do that will be in person or over a video call. Scheduling a meeting time will allow you to prepare and it will give your client time to cool down.
Know the line and don’t let anyone cross it
Sometimes you really will have that client who gets dangerously close to the line. Perhaps they’re taking advantage of you, treating you cruelly despite your best effort, or not giving you the tools you need to be successful. Whatever the case might be for you, it’s important to understand that your wellbeing is important.
There is such a thing as oil and water relationships between service provider and client – they aren’t healthy for anyone involved. Best to kindly wish your client well, refer them to other well-respected colleagues who might be better suited for the project, and respectfully part ways. Sometimes the best thing to do to avoid burning a bridge is to part ways amicably.
Whether your client’s frustration is justified (the project isn’t going as smoothly as you’d hoped it would) or it’s unwarranted (their frustration is spurring irrationally and they’re not treating you well), keep in mind that you have influence over the dynamic of every conversation. Pause, take a deep breath, and approach every situation with calmness. Remember, your reputation is on the line. Even if you need to end the relationship with your client, you’ll want to maintain your reputation as a professional within your field. So, whatever you do, deal with your difficult clients wisely!
Do you have any tips for dealing with challenging clients?