Difficult Client Management is an Art

Difficult clients, they might be part of the cost of doing business but you don’t have to suffer more than you need to. Our agency (and especially our project managers) have picked up some useful client-relation habits along the way.

Even if your clients aren’t difficult, client relations and management is still a full time job.Luckily, we have an entire team of Project Managers who dedicate their time, energy, and talents to this. They’re ‘people people’ who ensure the relationship and communication between our team and our clients run as smoothly as possible. They take tough client management in stride — often turning difficult clients into great clients (believe us, it’s hard not to love working with these guys).

Difficult Clients Weren’t Always Difficult Clients

It’s a tough pill to swallow for agency employees but often, it isn’t the client’s fault that they’re a difficult client. It’s like Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”

When deadlines are missed, expectations unfulfilled, or communication is lacking, sometimes you need to ask yourself, ‘what have we done that got us to this point? Why, exactly, are they upset?’

“Managing client expectations before deliverables is key to having happy clients. Once people know what’s going on, there are no surprises — and if there are, we let them know a week ahead. Don’t wait until the last minute to let a client know a deliverable is not going to happen on time.

Tough clients aren’t always tough clients at the beginning — but you can turn them into tough clients.” – Rob Lista, Senior Project Manager

In the same vein, you can turn tough clients into great clients. We’ve done it before with people who have come to us with a bitter taste in their mouth from another agency who mismanaged their expectations. Bringing genuine honesty and transparency to a damaged relationship can reintegrate trust.

difficult clients

Be Specific with Timelines & Communication

Communicating clearly will save you from damaging a relationship down the road. When you tell a client “You’ll have this in a few days” you’re setting up unrealistic expectations. You can’t manage what their expectations of ‘a few days’ are — they could be expecting two where you meant five. When this happens, they will be emailing you in three days looking for work you haven’t yet started.

Being specific can also work in your favour when a client is needlessly complaining. If they’re making broad generalizations, like “Things are never finished on time” ask them for specific examples. Then, propose measurable solutions to their problem.

difficult clients

Be Clear About the Scope of Work

In part, managing client expectations comes down to being clear about the scope of work you have in front of you. Often, people who are not in the same industry as yourself will have a skewed idea of how much work goes into a project. I can’t count how many times someone has said, “can’t you just take ten minutes and write it?” I know firsthand that this is often the case with my agency co-workers, too. Social media strategy, website building, video and photo work — quality work all takes time.

Before you give potential clients the chance to downplay the amount of work that goes into what you do for them, educate them on your process. Give them an example of a piece of work, tell them the amount of brainstorming, research, creation, and editing hours that went into it. Once they understand that things only look effortless because they aren’t, they will understand why your work takes the time it does.

Make sure your contract notes that anything above and beyond your initial agreement will be billed hourly. This will save you from the small, seemingly innocuous requests that add up over time.

Genuinely Difficult Clients

All of that being said, sometimes clients are, straight up, the worst. You’ve done everything expected, given multiple edits, listened and communicated and still, still they’re not happy. Sometimes people feel entitled to more work than initially negotiated. But, trust in a relationship is a two-way street — although it should be a last resort, you can let clients go who don’t respect you or your time. If you do, stick to the facts. Making an emotional statement as to why you’re letting a client go can burn bridges outside of that relationship.