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Dealing with 5 Difficult Client Types

14th October 2016

For many, starting a business begins with euphoria. You’re free! Your own boss!

Then, next thing you know, you’re trying to interpret the latest email bomb from disgruntled Client A and praying that Client B’s missed deadline doesn’t leave you with work to do over the weekend.

The fact is, there are difficult people everywhere. Knowing how to deal with them – especially when your business depends on it – is key.

Here’s 5 client types mostly likely to push your buttons, and how to manage them.

1. The ‘Dis-organised’

He misses conference calls, misplaces invoices and can’t find those specifications you sent last week. And since he’s always behind, everything is always a rush job!

Classic line: “Can you resend it?”

How to handle: If a client doesn’t give you what you need to get the job done, decide if their business is worth the additional time and money it takes to work with them. If so, assign a project manager to their account to accommodate the extra effort needed to chase their information and payment. (Ideally, you can charge them for the extra service.)

Before you do, make sure the problem is not of your own making. Entrepreneurs often offer a solution or service that’s “too dependent on the client.” To avoid that, try to streamline processes as much as possible and make sure the success of your business relies mostly on your efforts – not theirs.

2. The ‘Foot-Dragger’

You need her to send approval or materials before moving onto the next step. She keeps saying she’ll get on to it – soon!

Classic line: “We’ll hopefully get those back to you next week. Or maybe the week after.”

How to handle: It’s not fun, but you’re going to have to be this client’s project manager. Try to send friendly reminders about deadlines, and make sure to document when you send those. This is Business. Spell out the consequences politely and in a timely manner. Be clear: ‘If X doesn’t happen by this date, we’ll be delayed by X days.’

3. The ‘Clinger’

When you get to your desk in the morning, you already have several messages. He calls so much you know his number by heart – and cringe when you see it on your Caller ID!

Classic line: “What did you think of the information in my five emails this morning?”

How to handle: A clingy client is usually a novice or has been burned in the past. Being detailed –following up phone calls with an email explaining what you just discussed, your timeline and next steps, for example – will go far in reassuring them you’re dependable.

To keep distracting emails to a minimum, try setting up a schedule of pre-arranged check-ins. That way, your client will know he’ll have an opportunity to be heard, and you can use your time to actually work on the project.

4. The ‘Last-Minute-Request’

She specialises in the 6pm Friday email demanding answers or changes ASAP!

Classic line: “I know you’re going away this weekend, but we really need to stay on schedule.”

How to handle: These customers can wreak major havoc on your production schedules and your team’s morale – but if they’re willing to pay a ‘rush charge’ the effort may be worth it. Use those funds to pay for freelance help or to reward your staff members who put in extra hours to make the deadline happen.

If you’re unwilling or unable to accommodate the client’s demands, though, make sure that’s clear from the beginning. Be detailed in your contracts to let your clients know when you will and will not (be available to) work.

Let them know as far in advance as possible, and send reminders as the date approaches. If you’re away, set up an out-of-office message on your email, with a number to be used only in emergencies

5. The ‘Uncommunicative’

He’s got you on a tight deadline – but you’re given no instruction, and your emails asking even the most basic questions go unanswered!

Classic line: Nothing. He never returns your emails.

How to handle: These clients are typically very busy and prioritise their days according to what they see as being the most urgent tasks. Your job as the service provider is to move your requirement up their priority list – always and ever politely, of course!

If you’re not getting responses to emails, escalate to a phone call. If you’re not getting responses to phone calls, then call the front desk of your customer’s business, express your concern, and ask them if they would please help you out, by asking your client to call you back as soon as possible.

At the same time, document everything. If they miss a deadline, don’t return information on time, or anything that may reflect negatively on you, you need to be ready with call logs, email time stamps and text messages.