Not every contract goes smoothly. Most marketers are prepared for a few road bumps. They’re flexible and willing to adapt based on a client’s needs, preferences, communication style, or schedule. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to deal with difficult clients
Sometimes, however, conflict isn’t just a matter of miscommunication or creative differences. Some clients are just difficult. Whether the marketer has made a mistake or they’re dealing with unrealistic client expectations, they need to be ready to respond with tact and care.
These tips will help a marketer to deal with a difficult client, no matter the reason for their frustration.
Table of Contents
- Keep Guidelines Clear
- Respond Promptly
- Simplify the Work
- Be Willing to Educate
- Take Notes and Keep Records
- Know When to Walk Away
1. Keep Guidelines Clear
Unfulfilled promises, miscommunications, and confusion around responsibilities can all make clients frustrated. Clear guidelines can help you avoid these potential pitfalls.
For example, establishing a clear project scope when you first begin working with a client will help to create realistic expectations and a written record of your responsibilities. You’ll also be able to establish professional boundaries — like acceptable contact hours — and help create guidelines for how a client should contact you.
A clear schedule can also help. Clients may be less likely to get frustrated if they know exactly what to expect and when to expect it.
If clients push back on these guidelines and boundaries, you can work with them to understand their potential concerns. This can ensure that client-marketer communication stays open and that frustrations are discussed early in the process when they’re easiest to manage. Keeping clear guidelines is an effective way to deal with difficult clients.
2. Respond Promptly
When a client voices a complaint, try to respond as quickly as possible. Waiting too long on a response can make a client even more upset — especially if they need information from you to move forward with their work.
You should also communicate proactively while the project is ongoing, and especially if you run into setbacks that will delay the project. Most clients will appreciate the regular communication — and while no one is happy to hear about delays, clients will probably prefer an update to radio silence.
3. Simplify the Work
Sometimes, frustration may be a sign that your client is overwhelmed. You’ve presented them with the full range of available options, and it’s too much — they’re struggling to make a decision or are confused about what you’re asking them to do. To deal with difficult clients, you must ensure that all processes are simplified.
In some cases, simplifying client responsibilities can help keep a project running smoothly. Either offering fewer options or providing guidance in the form of advice and tips can help you guide your clients as they make key project decisions.
Most clients will appreciate the expert knowledge that you can bring to the table, especially if you’re able to explain why you make certain recommendations. For example, you may have assisted with logistics in the past and know how to avoid common delivery mistakes that your client may be about to walk into.
While you don’t want to make decisions on behalf of your clients, simplifying the work can be an effective strategy.
4. Be Willing to Educate
Many clients have years of experience working with agencies. They know what a marketer can provide and what they need to offer to get the best results.
Not every client is going to be so experienced, however. You may have a client who has never worked with a marketer or agency before and doesn’t really know what to expect.
They may not understand that they also have responsibilities in the marketer-client relationship. They may also not know what to communicate while working with you on a project.
In a case like this, you should be willing to educate somewhat. When you first speak with a new client, you should learn about their experience level with marketing agencies. You should also ask them about your services to help ensure they know what your business provides.
Depending on the client’s size, it may be worthwhile to invest in regular training that will help them understand more about what marketers provide.
5. Take Notes and Keep Records
Keeping notes and records is another sure way to deal with difficult clients. Clear records, documentation, and meeting notes will help you keep expectations grounded and establish guidelines for the client-marketer relationship. If a client regularly asks for changes, challenges you on agreement terms, or seems to be pushing the boundaries of a project, these records can be a serious asset.
You can use previous conversations and written contracts to establish what you and your client have discussed and agreed to in the past. This can help you to reduce the risk of miscommunications and avoid scope creep — projects growing well beyond the initial plan. Essential documents like marketing specifications can also help ensure that all project stakeholders are on the same page.
Requiring that requests for changes to a campaign or asset are made formally and in writing can also help. You and your client will have an easier time tracking what you’ve discussed and agreed to. This can make developing plans and schedules much simpler, as you’ll always have records to refer to.
6. Know When to Walk Away
While most difficult clients can be managed with communication or better expectations, some projects won’t work out.
In some cases, you may need to be willing to walk away. Toxic clients can take up your time, impact team morale and make it harder to meet deadlines for other clients. As a result, potentially causing a ripple effect across your team or organization.
Losing out on one client may not be easy, but it may be necessary to keep providing your services to other clients.
Strategies for Difficult Clients
It’s inevitable that every marketer will deal with difficult clients. The right strategies, however, can make working with these clients much easier. Clear and prompt communication, written records and advice can all help soothe frustrations that may make clients hard to work with.
While you may need to walk away from some projects, these strategies will help you avoid that worst-case scenario.
Eleanor is the editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She’s also a freelance web designer with a focus on user experience. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and dog, Bear.