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In most cases, difficult clients do not show their true colors up front, leaving you unaware of the issues you are about to endure. I’m talking about the situations that leave you wishing you never entered into a business agreement with this person. Just because you know it’s business and not personal doesn’t always make it any easier to sort out effectively. I’ve been in these situations and I’ve coached others about them. Here are some steps you can take to effectively deal with difficult clients.
Deal with Difficult Clients Step 1: Clear the Air
Most toxic business relationships don’t start that way. They normally go south after a disagreement or an uncomfortable discussion. Stay attuned to your clients’ reactions, including body language and tone of voice. That way you can identify trouble before it gets out of hand. As with most things, taking care of a problem before it becomes a problem is the best way to spare any mental and emotional anguish.
If you sense a problem, then talk frankly about it as soon as possible. It’s likely a misunderstanding that will be easily corrected. Listen to her thoroughly before you speak, validating her feelings and concerns. If it is a clarity of services issue, refer to your agreement or contract. Hopefully, you have one. Sometimes, clients need to review what they paid for and any details that might have been forgotten. As a women’s business coach, I constantly have to remind clients what they and I have committed to.
Deal with Difficult Clients Step 2: Look Inward
Keep in mind, you and your business are not perfect. You make mistakes. Perhaps this is one of those times that your work is not up to the normal standard. Hey, it happens. And though it’s not easy to have your skills and work questioned, it could be the best thing that ever happened to your business. If you missed something, admit it and fix it. Be on a path where you constantly make improvements.
Part of being your own boss – no, part of being a human– is trying to improve whenever the possibility arises. And if you have someone telling you that you are wrong, it’s worth looking inward for the culprit. Don’t ever blame your client or go off on her. Keep cool and take responsibility for your actions and business.
Deal with Difficult Clients Step 3: Be Solution Focused
It’s all too easy to get frustrated when a client is being difficult, especially if you let your emotions get the best of you. It’s important to keep all emotion out of the equation. Otherwise, you and your client will find yourselves in a battle not easily ended.
Once again, I’ve experienced high emotions (mine and a client’s) when an agreement can’t be made easily. I also have learned to sit on responses until all of my anger or frustration leaves. This is especially important when dealing with online clients that you cannot be with physically. Texts, emails, and social media communication can be misread and taken out of context.
Once you have listened to your client and their complaint, start thinking about solutions. You may not have an answer for her right away. Tell her that you have heard her and will work on the best solution for the problem. Give her a date and time you will get back with her. Be professional with all correspondence and abide by your word and your contract.
Deal with Difficult Clients Step 4: Serve with Kindness
You should be a tough, savvy businesswoman, but…you should also be a good person. I’m not saying be a pushover, but, in some cases, a degree of sympathy and kindness is needed to solve a problem. If your client seems unreasonable, there may be something in her personality or past that is fueling the conflict. Similarly, a client being extra hard on you might herself be under a lot of pressure from someone else. Give people the benefit of the doubt when you can.
Deal with Difficult Clients Step 5: Setting and Keeping Boundaries
From time to time, you’ll have a client who makes easy things difficult. Her antics are annoying but not worth severing your work relationship over. That said, it doesn’t mean you just sit by and allow her to cross the line you clearly set with your contract. You still have power. Holding your boundary is especially important when clients want you to do extra work without payment or redo something because they changed their mind. Resolve this before it becomes an issue by clearly outlining what your service includes and the costs for any extras.
Deal with Difficult Clients Step 6: Keep Detailed Notes or Record Sessions
It’s important to keep accurate records of your work with clients, especially with difficult or needy ones. From day one, write down anything that you know you might forget, such as, client feelings, expectations, and any tasks you need to complete. If you do this every time, you will have an upper hand if anything gets confused.
If you can, record your calls for an even better account of your sessions or meetings. I use a free conference line app for my client sessions. Make sure to ask permission to do this beforehand. Most likely, they will appreciate it, as they may want to review important information later. If there are any disputes, your detailed records will serve you well.
Deal with Difficult Clients Step 7: Moving On Gracefully
Occasionally, you may be in a situation that is not reconcilable. Your client may be so unreasonable, awkward or unpleasant to work with that you’re unable to continue the relationship. Life is too precious and short to be made miserable at work, especially in your own business. If you can afford to drop this rogue client, then do it. Of course, there is a graceful and professional way to break up with a client.
Once you’ve exhausted all of the above attempts to come to an agreement unsuccessfully, it’s time to end things. This severing may not be easy, so you will need to brace yourself for the worst. This is especially true if the client owes you money. In this case, you might want to get outside help from an attorney or online at BusinessFactors.com/types/non-recourse-factoring/, and then move on. Make certain that you’ve finished your work for them, so you’re under no obligation whatsoever to continue the working relationship. Leave things on good terms as much as possible by being kind, professional and sticking to the facts.
Eventually, if you’re in business long enough, you’ll get a difficult client. When that bad apple comes along, just chalk it up to experience and either fix things or move on. Don’t dwell on the experience and don’t dwell on any negative appraisals or reviews you receive from them! Let no one take your power or your self-confidence.