For better or worse, companies must engage with clients. Whether those are direct consumers or B2B clients, each client is unique, which means they come with their unique set of challenges. Some clients can quickly become more like partners in business, sharing similar goals, values and approaches to achieving goals together.
Others don’t act quite the same way. Unfortunately, you may come in contact with tricky, tough or even obnoxious clients who seem to think the old maxim – “the customers is always right” – gives them the freedom to make your life as difficult as possible.
You know the type? Sure you do. Luckily, there are ways to deal with these clients to keep your business safe and your days less stressful. Below is a guide on how to identify and deal with obnoxious clients.
Spot the warning signs
Some trouble clients seem to appear out of nowhere – you’ve had great interactions, happily signed contracts together and everyone appears to be on the same page. Then the unrest begins.
The client is yelling on the phone, making demands and reacting disproportionately to problems that could be solved in more effective and less stressful ways. Keep an eye out for these red flags before you enter a business agreement with a client:
They want to be persuaded
“Why should we work with you at all?” Clients who begin relationships on such a tough note want you to prove yourself right away. Businesses should of course give a great pitch to bring in new clients, but if you feel like you have no power and that you’re already working to prove yourself before you begin services, that’s a red flag.
Business becomes personal
“Did you not get anything out of our previous conversations? Why can’t you understand what we want?” When you hear these phrases, or others that feel like an attack against your personal abilities, it’s time to set some boundaries to protect yourself and your staff. Outcomes aren’t always perfect and you can’t read minds. That doesn’t mean a client gets to attack you.
They’re never happy
“This just isn’t what we’re looking for.” If you’re working on third, fourth or fifth attempts to get a project right, the onus probably isn’t entirely on you. You’ve had multiple discussions on the scope and direction of the project – if they’re not happy after receiving high levels of service, they’re the ones who aren’t being clear.
Of course, many red flags don’t appear until after you’ve signed the contract and entered a business agreement with one another. Once you spot these warning signs, however, don’t ignore them. You must take certain precautions to keep you and your staff safe.
Just because a client is paying you doesn’t mean they get to abuse you. The same is true of everyone in a company, from interns to administrative assistants all the way up to executives.
If you have a bad phone call with a client during which you’ve been exposed to yelling, an aggressive tone, unrealistic expectations or outright blame for a mutual misunderstanding, it’s time to talk about it with others in your company.
Agencies have a responsibility to their staff first, followed by clients. As such, business leaders should include training on communicating with clients as well as how to bring an issue to their supervisor.
As part of this training and evaluation once a client has become a troublesome one, gather internally to address where the behaviour is coming from. Is the negative attitude or obnoxious tone coming from an individual, seemingly out of the blue, or is it a team or company-wide culture issue? If it’s the former, the situation may be workable. If it’s the latter, it’s time to consider whether such a stressful partnership is worth it.
Furthermore, companies need to take this issue very seriously, and evaluate the level of disrespect employees are experiencing. No level of aggression or insults is okay, but if a client’s bad behaviour constitutes harassment or discrimination, or shows possibilities of escalating to that level, the situation simply cannot go on.
Take written notes during these phone calls to document any negative speech and keep internal communication free to encourage discussion. If you’re not on these phone calls or in these meetings, ask employees to give you updates on the situation. If possible, monitor the situation up close, and sit in on these calls to gauge the scope of the matter yourself.
Projects are going wrong at every turn, you’re working on multiple drafts for small endeavours and clients are now demanding calls twice a week. You’re not wrong to be stressed – the situation is going from bad to worse, and now is the time to revisit client expectations.
Have a frank discussion with your client to talk about how their actions are affecting the project at hand. Deadlines may be coming and going as clients demand perfection, which can mean delayed payments on your end.
Bad clients are often unafraid to push your personal and professional boundaries, so now’s the time to bring up any contractual agreements they may be trying to push. Make it clear that you’re trying to work together in the best way possible, and that both parties need to try to make the road forward a more pleasant and efficient one.
Consider the future relationship
What is the client costing you, in both tangible and intangible terms? You thought the client would require 10 hours of dedicated work per week to complete the scope of the project – now it’s more like 20. That’s money out the door.
Distress can also cost you – if you have a roster of bad clients, don’t expect your best staff members to stick around for long. And if you’re working alone, don’t expect to enjoy your job.
If you don’t have this set up already, going forward make sure to include explicit get-out language in contracts, as well as a code of conduct agreements and limits on the number of drafts clients can expect from you and your company.
Business is tough enough on its own, you don’t need to add on obnoxious clients, too. It’s in your interest, and your company’s interest, to seek out the kind of clients that make your day better, not worse.