The Wonderful World of Difficult Clients
Ah yes! The horror of difficult clients follows us through our careers.
We know the feeling. Every time you sign the dotted lines with a new prospect, deep down you wish this wasn’t like the last time where your patience was tested.
Tough clients are like a piece of rock hidden inside the softest pie you’ve tasted. Once you bite into it, your teeth rattle and shatter the tasty dream.
At Cleverism, we share the strategies to combat 11 problem clients that you may come across in your professional journey.
1. THE SHORT-NOTICE CLIENT
“Get it done by tomorrow!”
“I need this sent to me by today evening”
You know the type of client we are talking about. The one that wants the project to be delivered at impossible deadlines and in perfect shape.
This is the type of client that doesn’t care or respect your time. They don’t even offer a ‘Please’. It’s a blatant order and they make it your problem to deal with the emergency.
No amount of explanation satisfies the “Short-notice” client. In their world, they own you and you do what they ask of you.
Explain your customer service ethics to every client beforehand. Write down a minimum allotted time for every project completion in the contract terms. Notify them that you handle other clients and that you don’t do overnight projects.
Refuse the project stating that their project would suffer from inferior quality. You don’t have enough time to work on the project with your expertise. Every client desires the best work for their money. Once they see through your explanation, they’ll avoid offering impossible deadlines.
2. THE CLUELESS CLIENT
“Wait, I am not sure. Actually, redo the whole project, let’s try this.”
“I thought you were the expert. I don’t know much in this area but I certainly didn’t expect this.”
The familiar situation. The client calls you up and mentions the entire project. Half-way into the deadline, there’s another call asking you to cancel the entire project since it doesn’t match their vision.
The clueless client starts as an expert on the topic but somewhere down the line, they start to pick faults at every nook and cranny.
They rather brainstorm on the go without care for your valuable time.
Dealing with clueless clients is a gigantic waste of time and resources. It gets worse if they cancel the whole project without settling the payment.
Always take an upfront payment before starting the project. In the contract, state a “No Refunds Policy” once the project is undertaken. Your client will think twice before they offer a project.
Explain in-detail that once the project is accepted, all changes are limited to the original idea of the project. Any new ideas that are introduced are subject to a new contract. If the client wishes to make changes after the first 24 hours, make it clear that it comes under a new project.
3. THE UNINTERESTED CLIENT
“…Just get it done, however you wish”
Ever worked on a project that had little to no information. You might be dealing with an uninterested client.
This type of client doesn’t offer too much information and it’s almost impossible to validate the final vision. With a completely hands-off approach, the uninterested client makes it their goal to say “I don’t care really, just complete it already”.
Nothing’s worse than completing a project only to be met with an unsatisfactory – ‘Meh! It’s fine I guess’
Instead of being frustrated with a non-interested client. Take the opportunity to showcase your freedom and let your creativity flow. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Your client’s already unimpressed by everything you lay in front of them. Make the best of a rainy day and experiment.
Sometimes, the client remains uninterested due to a past failed project. Re-ignite their passion by spending time and talking about their project. Provide the best solution and alternatives to their problems. Once they start to see your vision, their interest may revive.
4. THE FREELOADER
“But but….the other company provides all these perks at no additional cost?”
“I was under the assumption that your firm included everything in the package. You’re saying its extra?!”
Nothing’s worse than the client that wants everything included in your services for free. And anything that isn’t complimentary is usually compared to your competitor. To demonstrate they can jump ship if you don’t match their low-ball offer.
When a client can’t afford you, they usually make your services look expensive.
You’re probably left with no option but to offer your services at a throwaway price or risk losing a client.
Always ensure your prices for your services are transparent. Any additional service must include the upfront fee. Never negotiate down to your client and stick to your fees. If the client makes a comparison to a competitor, simply demonstrate your past work and state the high-standards that you maintain. When you sound confident, the client has no option but to come through. Embrace the ‘Take it or leave it’ approach.
If you must offer a discount, ensure you upsell your services. Take, for example, you run a painting service and charge $100 per hour and $50 for the tools. Let’s say it takes 2 hours to paint a room and your client requests their bedroom to be painted. Offer a discount for the entire home at $1000. This way your client is satisfied at the discounted package and you’ve converted a small sale into a big one.
5. THE ANXIOUS CLIENT
“What? You’re sleeping at 3 a.m.? Who’s going to finish my project?”
The anxious client usually finds no issue at reaching out during odd hours of the night. They expect their work to be handled during the weekends, on holidays, and even when you’re at a funeral. The anxious client hasn’t taken a vacation in years and sure as hell doesn’t expect you to have one.
Expect your emails to be flooded by a barrage of creepy one-liners like –
“Why haven’t you replied? I sent you 3 emails in the last hour.”
“This is extremely unprofessional; I expect to be notified every hour about the changes and updates you make.”
“I don’t trust anyone with my work. Hence, I’ll be calling you every 2 hours to ensure you’re on par with my requirements.”
The anxious client is like a jealous spouse. They are always beside you wanting to know your plans and motives behind your actions. In short, the anxious client utilizes the passive-aggressive route to get their work done.
Be adamant from the beginning about your work hours and timings. A steadfast statement at the start of the contract saves you days of frustration. Something along the lines like you won’t be available to answer during the weekends, holidays, and off-hours.
Don’t let your staff or yourself be harassed by anxious clients. If the going gets tough, it’s best to terminate the contract with your payment policy in place. No amount of stress is worth the money you make when dealing with intrusive phone calls and emails during your private time. Let the client know that you work better uninterrupted. You’ll perform all edits post-delivery if unsatisfied.
6. THE TORMENTOR
“Do you know who you are speaking to? I can hurt your business by blacklisting you.”
Similar to a high-school bully, the tormentor wreaks havoc by taking charge from the word ‘Go’. In their world, you are a pest. Insignificant and weak. The tormentor usually starts by demonstrating a past event such as –
“The last company I worked with disappointed me. The company is now bankrupt. That’s what happens to people that cross me.”
Suddenly, you realize you’re no longer servicing clients but sitting across an Italian mob boss. Their demands are vast but their pay, extremely little like their patience levels.
The tormentor is an aggressive warlord that loves to intimidate smaller startups into taking a project for a lower fee. They claim one project with them would make you a celebrity in your industry.
Match your intensity with the bully. Maintain eye contact and respond with a confident smile. It melts their intimidating factor when they realize their aggression isn’t working. If the tormentor remains unwavering to their aggression, it’s best to reject the proposal and show them the door.
If the client is a big one and the only thing coming between you and a good deal is their ego. It’s best to embrace a calm persona. Agree with them and ask if your skills are on par with their requirement.
Politely thank them and remain passive. Remember, this option should only be taken if the deal is massive. Dealing with a bully isn’t fun but if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it may be worth it to endure.
7. THE CERBERUS
“Let me check with my partner before we make that decision.”
“…I think it’s best if your presentation and price quote is re-presented to my other partners as well…individually, of course…”
The Cerberus, as the Greek mythology tells us is a massive hound with 3 heads that guards the gates of hell. In a professional sense, the Cerberus are multiple partners that share equal responsibilities and hire you.
Instead of allowing one person to delegate through the proceedings, the Cerberus client likes to enjoy passing over suggestions through the committee. Minor workarounds require a long time to decide. Simple permissions take forever to resolve.
In the end, your one-week project is overshot to a month. With no monetary compensation to your time.
The Cerberus usually has a tough time deciding if the project was a success or not. It’s impossible to impress every head.
Ensure at the start of the contract, that you’ll deal with one person from the group. Let them know that the discussion time is on them. All final decisions are not subject to change at any point. Make it a point to contact one assigned person delegated by the group.
If the project uncompromisingly requires several heads to discuss various points, you’ll be forced to deal with a Cerberus situation. In that case, it’s best to convert the project into a ‘Pay-by-hourly’ basis. This way your time is being respected and they’ll make the best use of it.
8. THE VANISHING CLIENT
Unlike a magician on stage, the vanishing client performs this trick often. They give you a project and are completely unreachable for weeks and even months. Just when you think about scrapping the entire project, the client pops their head questioning if the project is complete.
No apology even, as it’s quite normal to be unresponsive for days. The vanishing client is also at risk of not making payments on time and hence, it becomes a game of cat and mouse. Every time, a project nears its end, the client begins their disappearing act.
Have a contract set up with an upfront payment. If the contract is midway and you don’t hear from them, let them know that you’ll terminate it if there’s no call taken from their side. Having a fixed deadline is critical to protecting your finances.
Be prepared for sneaky clients that throw requests all of a sudden after a vanishing act. Let them know beforehand, that last-minute requests won’t be entertained. Explain to them you’re on a timeline and have other clients to service.
9. THE NAGGER
It’s a perfectly quiet day at the office, the birds are out chirping, and the cool wind hits your face.
What could go wrong on such a beautiful day?
The phone rings, on the other side of the line, is Mr. Nagger. He wants to go through yesterday’s project.
Your perfect day is about to be destroyed by complaints.
The nagger finds fault in everything – your dress code, your sense of timing, deadline delivery, price quote, and doesn’t even spare the kitchen sink.
While constructive criticism is the root of development, a habitual nagger isn’t. Appeasing the nagger is mission impossible. Even Tom Cruise would pass this one.
The first thing is to keep your wits about. The nagger gets on your nerves quickly. Having a cool and collected head is the first step to dealing with a complainer. Next, give them your attention and hear everything they have to say. Only speak when they have completed their piece. Try and find any actual faults in your work and respond politely. Most naggers respond well to a good listener.
If your patience levels are unable to handle a nagger, it’s time to give them a piece of your mind. Wish them the best and allow them to employ the best expert in town to finish their job. A habitual nagger that doesn’t reason well to passive talk isn’t worth your time.
10. THE OMNIPOTENT CELESTIAL
“ That’s not it. Must I do everything for you? I guess I can show you the workaround.”
When dealing with an omnipotent client, you’ll feel less of an expert in their presence. After all, they know A-Z about their business, product, tools, services, price, logistics, etc.
You name it, they know it. Or at least pretend they do.
This client is highly critical of your work before the first draft. Their attitude is the size of Mount Olympus. If you ever wanted to converse with a celestial being, the omnipotent client is the closest to a heavenly entity.
The omnipotent client offers knowledge for free, even if it’s not relevant. They get offended at even the slightest recommendations you throw their way. They wish to control everything.
You wonder – why they bothered to hire you in the first place if they are good at it?
How exactly do you build trust with difficult clients?
Unlike the other worrisome clients on the list, the omnipotent isn’t annoying. The fear of having their work delegated usually transforms into a fountain of information. Most omnipotent clients usually are positive. Be patient and clarify all their doubts. If any suggestions are debated, show them why it adds value.
Taming the omnipotent is best done when presented with statistics. If you can prove a concept or idea works, the omnipotent is willing to trust you. Never take negative remarks personally. In their minds, the omnipotent thinks they are helping you with their information.
11. THE “ALMOST” DREAM CLIENT
“We are perfectly willing to try out your vision. We understand everything you’ve said and love your portfolio!”
*Skip a few days*
“There’s just one tiny problem….”
Finding the dream client is like opening thousands of oysters at the bottom of the seabed in search of the elusive pearl. The ‘Almost’ dream client is the perfect specimen of character and poise. The start of the project is smooth, the communication is on point, the dedication shown is exemplary.
Right when you start to daydream about the perfect commitment, an email comes across.
The email has the perfect balance of grace and elegance. But one line, in the end, stands out.
“Unfortunately, we can’t go with this but we appreciate your work and effort. Maybe another time?”
The ‘Almost’ dream client is one that you spend the most time on. You work nights to prepare the presentation and impress them. Just when things are looking great, the final dash turns out uneventful and it shatters your glass heart.
Never have high expectations of landing a project. Clients are like fireflies – they glow bright but disappear almost instantaneously. Never make the mistake of underestimating your client and their requirements.
Every individual has different requirements and while they may give you a positive nod initially. The rug comes off just as fast, leaving you with a fatal fall.
Most dream clients have critical areas of focus on their project. Bringing your expertise into these areas convinces them that you’re the perfect man or woman for the job. If there are additional expenses, make it clear at the start.
Clients are like ice-cream flavors – some are irresistible, others are detestable. Having a cheat book to dealing with your clients is critical for the modern businessman. Think of it as self-defense against your time and money.
It’s impossible to please your entire clientele. However, clients are necessary for building your portfolio. With these strategies, even the most difficult people can be tamed. The toxic clients are best left to the depths of Davy Jones’ locker.
In the grand scheme of things, one less difficult client is one less stressful episode to deal with.
Had a bitter experience with an angry client previously? How did you manage them? Share your experience with us in the comments below.
In San Mateo (CA), we meet the Co-founder and CEO of EverString, Vincent Yang. He shares his …
Flying solo has its advantages such as sole authority, more freedom and space, a greater room to …
In Palo Alto (CA), we talked with entrepreneur Amr about the business model and history of the …