Nobody goes to work to do a bad job…

When you work in client account management in a small business, it can be challenging sometimes to handle client expectations. We’ve had moments of not understanding why one job can take 3 months to get sign off (following many iterations of changes, our record is 286 for a 5-page website), while others are a complete dream (following a very clear brief and realistic deadline, we once had a campaign pass with no changes).

Over the years, we’ve learned tactics for managing expectations and handling client work that have helped keep most of our clients happy. Any time they are not, is a new opportunity for learning.

Difficult clients are just a part of the cost of doing business. Most often, they’re difficult because they’re unhappy with the service that you have provided. Sometimes, they could simply have a personality that clashes with your company values, or they have expectations that are way out of touch with reality. When you’re faced with a difficult client, it can be hard to know what to do.

Here’s 7 tips that we have picked up along the way:

  1. Choose your attitude – stay calm, even if your client is screaming at you down the phone (and some do), remain cool and professional. This may even help to calm your client.
  2. Listen to their concerns – your client has a right to be heard, make sure your client understands that you are focused on their problem, acknowledge that you have heard and understood.
  3. Deliver a prompt reply – as soon as your client raises an issue, make it a priority to respond and sort it out. This is not accepting blame, but it establishes good communication from the start.
  4. Figure out what happened – it could be a simple communication issue where you were not as clear about something as you intended. Keeping good notes and records of client meetings will avoid this in future.
  5. Offer a solution – this isn’t about admitting you are wrong (in many cases, you won’t be), but find a way to solve the problem with your client. If you are in the wrong, admit it right away and show the client how you will make amends to get their project back on track.
  6. Cut your losses – remember this, your reputation and integrity are always more important than your bottom line. Fixing a problem may turn a difficult client into a dream. Other times you may need to terminate the relationship but if you keep your dealings professional, your business will come out stronger and smarter.
  7. Review and learn – that’s actually the most important thing. Have a sense of humour and surround yourself with a team that isn’t afraid to say when something has gone wrong and that helps you change processes to put it right going forward.

Sometimes, even if you follow our tips above, you will still be in the difficult position of needing to fire a client. This can be really tricky in a new business when you can see the gaps in your cashflow, and your pipeline isn’t yet strong. Remember this, you wouldn’t work with a toxic employee. Don’t work with toxic clients.

Check the terms of contracts (if you have them…and you always should). Wind up any existing projects first then find a way to end your relationship naturally. Then repeat step number 7. You are always learning in a small business.

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