6 tips for handling difficult clients

PR pros have to learn how to handle demanding and persnickety partners who want more for less and undervalue their expertise. Consider these tips to mollify tough customers.

How to handle tough clients

Whether you are part of a large PR or marketing agency, toil for a smaller organization or work solo, managing client relationships is no easy task.

It takes effective communication, understanding, and constant efforts to ace agency-client dynamics. While many clients are a breeze to work with, at some point, you will encounter clients who are a nightmare to handle—and like any relationship, even the amazing ones can be difficult at times.

Things happen.

Whether it’s a client who keeps unrealistic expectations or one who never seems to know what they want, the truth is managing client relationships is part and parcel of agency life.

One must know how to tackle them well to succeed. Gone are the days of “the client is always right.” Sometimes, it’s a communications professional’s job to outline and champion best practices, which means saying “no” when a client requests something you consider black hat—or simply inadvisable.

Here are six ways to effectively deal with difficult clients and deter them from hampering your team’s productivity:

1. Set the right foundation.

As in every relationship, it’s important strike the right tone from the very beginning.

Even though you might be tempted to impress the client at every stage, remember this is your biggest chance to be transparent about how your team works. Be sure to lay out your process and state your expectations clearly.

Be assertive in your communication. Stand your ground and let your client understand they must not take you for granted. Practice being polite yet firm from day one and you’ll evade sticky situations in the future.

2. Manage expectations.

When you are assigned a new project, understand the client’s expectations—but do not be afraid to be realistic in your commitments.

If your client asks you for a revision, ask them for clear and constructive feedback in line with their expectations. This will save both you and your client time.

The best way to deal with this is to assess the workload your team is grappling with and negotiate timelines before beginning any work. If the client insists on expanding the scope of work, make sure you restate this in your contract and are compensated for it.

3. Provide updates.

Whether you foresee an increase in expenses, face roadblocks along the way or need to share updates on project status, it is a good idea to keep your client informed at every stage. Do this by sending them status reports, calling them at the end of each day or initiating weekly meetings.

As the project driver, you must be proactive in your approach. Don’t wait for questions; give updates or highlight issues as soon as they’re known. Keep the client involved from the first stage and make them aware of your efforts.

4. Document everything.

It can be infuriating when a client has a sudden “change of heart”, thereby sabotaging your efforts. While you cannot change your client’s indecisive ways, you can document the agreed upon plan as it unfolds.

After important meetings or phone calls, email the meeting minutes to the client and your team. This will help keep everyone on the same page. When it comes to seeking approvals, ensure you have them well-documented before acting. The last thing you want is an accusation of misunderstanding or not doing a proper job.

5. Stay calm.

When you’re stuck with a disgruntled client who is making life miserable, there may be instances where you’re tempted to write a scathing retort.

Remember not to act impulsively. Even though staying calm is hard to do, it is the best way to deal with the situation. Losing your temper and arguing with the client won’t get you anywhere.

Stay calm, put your point forward clearly, and communicate your side of the story rationally. If the situation worsens, then escalate matters to those with higher authority.

6. Know when to walk away.

After spending so much time securing clients and working on their account, it may be upsetting to part ways with them. However, when a client becomes difficult to handle and refuses to meet midway, or if you or your agency must make a stand on a particular issue, it is often best to call it quits.

Neither party is being served well if the relationship is unsustainable and increasingly toxic.

You’ll save time and energy by working with clients who respect your time and have a better understanding of what you can do for them.

When deciding to part ways, do it gracefully and convey the actual reason behind taking this step. Have an honest, professional conversation and explain to the client how it is the best course of action for both of you.

There is no way to build a solid agency-client relationship if collaboration and understanding do not come from both sides. These six tips to can help tactfully deal with difficult clients and avoid giving in to them unnecessarily.

Adela Belin is a private educator and a writer at Writers Per Hour. A version of this article originally appeared on the Spin Sucks blog.

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Topics: PR


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