Whether you are a freelancer or the head of a small organization, you have clients. If you are a people person and have good relationships with your clients, then the client-vendor relationship can be a great one. Still, there will always be a small percentage of clients with whom your relationship is less than great. Too often we call these clients “difficult.” But there is more to a tense client-vendor relationship than name-calling.
As always, we have to remember that doing business is all about the building and maintaining of relationships. So when difficulties arise, it’s important to recognize that everyone involved deserves a certain amount of respect, and calling someone difficult is not respectful. It is finger pointing, and that is never helpful. Instead, let’s focus on ways to improve the communication with these five simple steps.
- Listen. Before any situation can be resolved, you need to have all the facts. That means you have to be clear minded and take the time to listen to your client. Hear them out and make certain that you have all the facts, as the client sees them. According to Seth Godin, acknowledging the client’s anger is one of the first steps to resolution. Even if you do not agree with it, resolution begins with this all-important step.
- It’s Just Business. When trying to remediate issues with an angry client, it is very important to remain calm. Taking time before responding to complaints or an accusation will ensure that you never speak harshly or defensively to a client. Remember, you are a business person, and this is just business. It is not a personal attack, so do not take it as such. Keeping your cool will always help alleviate the overall situation.
- It’s Not You, It’s Me. Before assuming the problem is the client, take a moment to examine your own household. Many businesses operate on the premise “the client is always right.” While no one can be right all the time, you should definitely examine your situation. This is a necessary step to determine whether the breakdown in communication is not due to some fault of yours.
- Be Part of the Solution. Repairing any relationship takes effort and, more importantly, it takes time. Of course it also takes a solution, and that solution should begin by asking the client what it would take to satisfy them. Any solution that will satisfy and improve the situation must begin with the client. The only question left is: Can you accept the client’s request?
- It Was You, After All. Ultimately, if you cannot satisfy whatever your client requests, then you have to realize that. Not every client-vendor situation is the right one for everyone involved. In that event, you have to be prepared to again follow the advice of Seth Godin and “fire” them in as civil a manner as possible. This may be as hard as cancelling a contract or as simple as not submitting an SOQ or accepting any further work from them. In either event, it is time for you to part ways.
There is no way for anyone to be in business for any period of time and not eventually encounter a dissatisfied or unreasonable client. This is the very nature of dealing with clients. Being prepared with the tools to mollify a client can do more than satisfy them. Mastering these skills can help you convert “difficult” clients into loyal advocates for our business!