When I talk to other business owners about what makes for a bad client, I hear things ranging from people that don’t pay their invoices to others that are downright rude. Generally it boils down to a feeling of disrespect. If that’s something you are experiencing, here’s eight strategies you can try:
1. Be clear about expectations
If you work 9-5 Monday through Friday, you might assume your clients are keeping the same hours. But chances are, you’ve got at least one client that toils away through the weekend, and is in a tizzy Monday morning because you’re “ignoring” the email they sent at 6:30 Friday night.
Whether it’s your business hours, your response time, or project deliverables, having clear expectations ahead of time can eliminate a number of headaches. It especially helps if you can have a document to point to.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Even if you have a signed agreement that lays out what a client can expect, you may have to reinforce this message a couple times.
Going back to the client who wants a quick response, you might respond with a message such as:
I’m so sorry you were feeling ignored! As a rule, I don’t work over the weekend, so you’re unlikely to hear from me during that time, but I do make every effort to reply within one business day…
You may even go a step further and use an automatic reply on your email that lets clients know when they can expect a response. For example:
Thanks for your message! I’m spending most of my afternoon in meetings, so I may not answer my email right away, but I will make every effort to get back to you within one business day. If you need immediate help, please contact [email protected].
Realize too that the client is likely anxious, either about an important project or a new working relationship with you. Having a shared project folder in which they can access the latest developments may be helpful.
3. Train better behavior
Have a client for whom everything is consistently an emergency? Try charging a rush fee.
If they are willing to pay it, it can be worth your while to shift priorities. But chances are when faced with a fee, you’ll find that even though they prefer to have it today, they don’t really need it until next Monday.
4. Set ground rules
If you are working with a client that yells, swears, belittles, or otherwise makes you or your team uncomfortable, that’s not okay. Though it can be hard to speak up, it’s important to tell your clients when they’ve crossed a line and need to dial it down.
Many people don’t realize their behavior is making someone uncomfortable and will apologize profusely for causing offense.
There are, of course, others who will tell you, “That’s just the way I am.” If that happens, you have a choice: deal with it or send the client on their way.
5. Truly consider feedback
When we hear something negative, our first instinct is often an immediate, “you’re wrong!” It’s hard to stomach criticism, but it’s an important skill to learn.
If a client tells you something you don’t want to hear, try taking a breath and walking away, then come back to the issue when you’re calmer. Try to put yourself in the client’s shoes to see if their complaint has merit. Maybe you did miss a deadline or run over budget, or maybe a member of your team needs to step up their game.
You may find that while you didn’t like hearing it, your client’s “suggestion” can make your business stronger.
Remember: it’s actually a good thing if the client is giving you a chance to address the issue before taking their business away, or writing a bad review.
6. Try a different team member
Some people just don’t mesh. It’s a fact of life and there’s not much you can do about it, short of banging your head against the wall repeatedly.
But the person who drives you crazy might be a quirky, but otherwise pleasant person for someone else on your team.
If you have the option, try letting someone else take the lead on the client and see if a different personality will ease the tension.
7. Be okay with saying no
Most of us have been taught that the customer is always right, but there are times when you need to say no.
No to the rush project.
No to the manner they are talking to you.
No to doing additional work until they pay their invoice.
As the business owner, it’s your right to say no. Realize that saying no could mean you lose the business, but chances are you’ll be happier and less stressed – and ultimately able to bring in a client that’s a better fit.
8. Be honest
If you’ve already documented everything under the sun, have tried several different project leads and STILL have problems managing the client, it may be time to let go.
Have an honest conversation with the client, and consider saying something like,
I’ve realized we can’t make you happy, so I think it’s best if we end our relationship. If it’s helpful, I can recommend a couple other companies that might do a better job meeting your needs.
It’s honest and disarming, and will likely let you end the relationship without burning any bridges.