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Problem Clients | How to Avoid Difficult Clients

Sure, it’s nice to be recognized when you’ve done a great job. Most clients will do just that. Unfortunately, we occasionally have to deal with a difficult customer or someone who’s trying to take advantage of us. When (not if) you come up against this difficult client, it’s good to have a plan that will help you keep your cool and maintain your professional reputation. Here are a few of our top tips to help you avoid difficult clients when tricky circumstances come up.

Scenario #1: Client hires you but doesn’t pay you.

You do amazing work. You send the invoice. Then…crickets. The customer doesn’t respond or pay you. It’s natural to be upset, but the way you handle these types of situations defines both your character and the nature of your business. Have, and follow, a predetermined plan of attack. Begin by assuming the best about your client. Don’t assume they’re out to get you. Assume that they’re busy, maybe on vacation, possibly experiencing some sort of difficult time in life. Begin by communicating that you understand something may have come up and that you’re simply reminding them that payment is due. This is where a pre-planned set of escalating communication strategies is so helpful. Having pre-written emails, letters, or invoices with wording that communicates from mild escalating to a serious tone will be your friend and will help keep you from letting your emotions get the best of you.

Then, learn from the situation. What can you do differently to help protect yourself in the future? Should you require more significant deposits, disclaimers, late fees, etc.? Learn from this situation to improve both your business and future relationships with other clients.

Scenario #2: Client keeps cancelling or rescheduling your job and wreaking havoc on your schedule.

Again, keeping your cool is key! Communicate to the client that you want to help them achieve their goals, but they need to help you to do that by providing you the information you need. Set and communicate your boundaries. Do those boundaries need to include billing a fee for appointments cancelled or missed with less than 1 week’s notice? Can more of the communication be done online versus in person so it’s less dependent on clients’ schedules? Maybe an intake form, or an online questionnaire or survey would be more effective. Asking yourself these questions can help diffuse potential frustration before it even begins.

Scenario #3: Client is unhappy with the work you complete, no matter what you do.

First, if you’ve made a misstep, admit it. You will immediately diffuse future combativeness and automatically invite them to do the same by setting an example of humility. Humility begets more humility. (Altert: humility is hard! Ask any human.) Ask clients to be very specific about what they are unhappy about. Help keep them focused so you don’t have to filter generalizations. Your goal is to help them be very specific so you can proactively help fix what’s not matching their vision. If things are heated or emotional, again, consider separating yourself from personal interaction that can quickly send you to Crazy Town, USA. Try asking questions to get to the root of the issue. Sometimes, communicating via email can help diffuse the situation, too. Remind them that you’re on the same team and want to work together to get the desired results, but you also need very clear information. Help them understand the fact that you can’t guess and get it right. You need their help.

Finally, examine yourself and your business practices. Ask yourself, “Is this a repetitive problem for me?” Do the same specific issues keep coming up? Self-evaluate. Maybe there truly are areas or certain skills that you can, or need to, improve. If you’re being given constructive feedback, be open to it. It just may be what you need to make your business even better!

Scenario #4: Clients asks you to do something unsafe.

Don’t do it. Inform and educate them. Explain to clients that you’re committed to their safety and the safety of your crew, and what they’re asking for would compromise your integrity. If the client is simply not respecting your decision, draw a line in the sand and decide ahead of time your own boundaries. What are you willing and not willing to do for the client? Have a clear and predetermined exit strategy so you can walk away from the job in a positive way, while maintaining your reputation.

Sometimes we can see these scenarios coming with prospective clients, sometime we can’t. If you have a plan for when it happens, you and your clients come out the winners by keeping your reputation intact, staying professional, keeping your cool, and delivering on high-performance finishing jobs, all of which add up to long-term success.