If you’re working in a client-facing business, then you know how important it is to form strong relationships with the people paying your salary. Not only can difficult clients make life unpleasant for you and your staff, but they may also have a serious impact on your company’s bottom line. In fact, a 2010report from Return on Behavior magazine indicates that unhappy clients will tell between 9 and 15 people about their bad experiences with your business. Fortunately, business consultants and freelancers can take steps to improve client relations. Here are 6 tips to help businesses deal with tough clients more successfully.
1. Improve Communication
Perhaps the most important part of dealing with any client, whether difficult or not, is to communicate effectively. Clients who don’t know what’s going on with a project are more likely to cause problems for you and your business. Along with providing regular project updates, freelancers should take care to notify clients about problems and delays before they occur. And at the beginning of any relationship, make sure to lay out all prices and scheduling expectations in advance in order to avoid unhappy surprises.
In the event that a client does become upset, take the time to listen to his or her complaints and, if possible, discuss them. Always try to remain calm, and never let your emotions get the best of you, no matter how justified you may feel in the heat of the moment. After the issue has been corrected, be sure to follow up with the client. Show clients you value them and their business, and try your best to convince them to give you a second chance.
2. Construct Boundaries
While regular communication with clients is important, it’s also crucial to set boundaries. Although the temptation may be strong to answer all client emails and calls the moment you receive them, freelancers who appear “too available” will likely be taken advantage of. To avoid spending unnecessary time on the phone, establish a schedule for phone conferences or for available times when you can be reached. It might also help to give yourself a bit of padding when setting deadlines, as this will set aside time that you can use to review your work or deal with any unforeseen errors. Meeting a deadline early will allow you to “over-deliver,” which may turn a tough client into a satisfied one. At the very least, you won’t have to deal with panicked calls on the weekends.
3. Offer Solutions
No matter how good you are at communicating with your clients, you will have to deal with the occasional disagreement or miscommunication. When an issue arises, offer solutions right away to show that you are eager to address the situation. If solutions are not possible, offer clear and well-defined steps to improve the situation, as well as a plan to prevent it from happening again in the future. Depending on the client, this may or may not be part of a dialogue. If it is, make sure to listen carefully to your client, and acknowledge his or her input by restating their concern to show them that you are concerned as well. To better understand it, reply with questions that clarify any inconsistencies that you may have before you implement your solutions. By focusing on actionable changes, you can prevent clients from dwelling on the negative while also demonstrating your skill and capability.
4. Keep Good Records
Many disagreements between clients and consultants result from inconsistent expectations. As a freelancer, it’s important to document all business conversations to make sure both parties are on the same page. After a phone call or in-person meeting, you should take the time to type up an email that summarizes any decisions that were made. By keeping a written record of events, you can protect yourself in the event that clients change their minds about courses of action down the line. More importantly, you will be protecting yourself against any possible lawsuits should a relationship deteriorate to that point.
5. Publish Testimonials
In some cases, potential clients may feel like they can take advantage of certain freelancers because they don’t have visible track records. If this sounds familiar, you can avoid problems with difficult clients by establishing a strong, visible reputation. Applications like Boast help freelancers collect testimonials from past clients and visitors to their site. By posting testimonials and endorsements on your website, you can build confidence among existing clients who are questioning your skills while also encouraging new ones to give you a try.
6. Meet in Person
When clients take their unhappiness out on you, it can be difficult to remain calm and respectful. As a freelancer, one of the best ways of diffusing tension is to meet with clients in person instead of firing off yet another angry email. By sitting down with problem clients, you show them that you care about their feelings and are committed to resolving the issues. Your clients may even prefer meeting face-to-face: according to a Forbes Insights publication, 85% of survey respondents believe that face-to-face meetings build stronger and more meaningful relationships. Remember that you are both human beings, and concentrate on improving the relationship moving forward.
While some clients are eager to share their problems, others may not bother telling you what’s wrong. In fact, the aforementioned Return on Behaviorreport states that 91% of unhappy clients don’t take the time to complain about your services before abandoning your business. As such, take the initiative, and approach tough clients yourself to protect your company’s reputation moving forward.
Finally, keep this one last bit of wisdom in mind: If a client is truly being difficult in an unwarranted manner, then it may be better to end the relationship sooner rather than later. Making the right call comes from intuition, which will improve with experience over time. Just remember that there are certain situations where, no matter what you do or how hard you try, you will not win. In cases such as these, consider quitting the client rather than spending your time attempting to salvage a sinking ship.