3 types of difficult clients and how to make them happy
In theory, a business relationship is pretty straightforward: There are customers or clients who have a need, and there is you, the business, who can offer a solution to that need. However, in a world where the customer is always right, offering solutions may not always be easy or even possible.
While you may want to pass on the client who stalls projects, changes budgets or always has a negative comment to share, it's essential, not only to your job but to the reputation of your business, that you find ways to get along with difficult clients and help meet their needs.
Ken Kilpatrick, president of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, says, "Our company's focus is on crisis management, and so, we often deal with troubled and troubling individuals who are difficult to deal with." Here, Kilpatrick describes the three types of difficult clients you're likely to come across at some point in your career, and the strategies that can resolve the situation and make everybody happy.
Difficult client No. 1: The client who is frustratingly contentious or disagreeable by nature
What to do: Strategically delegate communications to a co-worker
As though they have a thorn in their side, this client will always have a reason to be dissatisfied with your ideas or the way you're approaching their needs. If the client isn't receptive to your work, the solution may be to bring in a fresh perspective. "We have found by delegating communications with a difficult client to another employee who typically does not work on the account to be an effective strategy," Kilpatrick says.
"This works well because the employee to whom the client is delegated knows he or she is dealing with that client on an interim basis for the very purpose of relieving you of frustration," Kilpatrick continues. "In this scenario, delegated employees are able to keep a level head as they know what to expect, that the experience with the client is intermittent and that they serve as your 'knight in shining armor.' We have also found in some circumstances that clients become less difficult when they get diplomatically shuffled, particularly when you do not respond to their last hostile email or voicemail, but rather send someone else to take care of the matter -- they get the unsaid message."
Difficult client No. 2: The client who just wants to fight
What to do: Strategically apologize
Whether you're not meeting their unspoken expectations or it's a problem entirely unrelated to you, sometimes a client is having a bad day and ends up taking it out on you. If this is the case, take the high road and "kill them with kindness." "When you know you're not in the wrong, or the client is being flat out difficult for the sake of being difficult, apologize either verbally or via email even though you know you are not at fault," Kilpatrick says.
"The purpose of this technique is to 'embarrass' the client into backing off," Kilpatrick continues. "Say something such as 'I really did not mean to upset you, and I can understand why you are not pleased. I honestly thought my idea was the best solution, and I want you to know, whether I am right or wrong at times, I'm truly committed to doing my best for you.' Expect dead silence, but expect the client to cool down as a result."
Difficult client No. 3: The client who is difficult but reasonable
What to do: Confront the matter
A client's input is essential to ensure that you're giving them what they want, but if multiple attempts to reach a solution have been fruitless, it's time to confront the matter. "These clients tend to be more obstinately opinionated than confrontational, but they still have a way of ruining your day," Kilpatrick says. "In this case, make time with the client by phone or in person. Preface the conversation with positive items such as projects that are going well and then pause and say, 'Listen, I need a few more minutes of your time about something that's been on my mind,' then politely get to the point. A reasonable client will likely consider your point of view, and moreover, will be willing to work through the situation toward a better relationship."
The business succeeds when the customer is happy and wants to continue the relationship, and everybody wins when a difficult client is turned into a satisfied customer.
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