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How to Handle Difficult Clients and Customers

The client arrived at his office fifteen minutes late and proceeded to bounce a basketball, talking rapidly between bounces. The relationship was clearly off to a bad start. At some point you will encounter difficult clients or customers. Here are some tips for identifying potential problems, plus suggestions for handling problematic customers and clients and challenging situations.

Red Flags that Identify Problematic Clients and Customers

You may never encounter a rude prospect who bounces balls during meetings, but you could encounter situations, such as the following, that imply future problems:

  • Poorly defined project goals. What is the customer looking to do?
  • Poorly defined client/customer roles. Who is the decision maker?
  • No investment in the project by the customer or client.
  • Failure to answer questions or provide necessary inputs on time.
  • Unrealistic schedules. The customer insists on rapid turnaround and then lets your contract sit for three weeks, unread and unsigned.

Handling Problematic Clients and Customers

To avoid problems, take the following steps with all clients or customers:

  • Meet all decision makers, recommenders, and other key people before agreeing to do the work. Make sure they are all on board.
  • Clarify who wants what, when, why, in what form and for what price.
  • Clarify what you are to do and what the client is to do.
  • Don't agree to impossible deadlines or delivery dates if you wish to succeed.
  • Acknowledge that some deals are not for you.

Handling Challenging Situations

Here are some suggestions for handling five challenging customer situations:

  • We tried doing the project ourselves and failed. Now you try. Find out why they failed. If you accept the assignment, note that success is not assured.
  • I don't know what I want, but I will recognize it when I see it. Ask the client what they need from your company and why. Recognize that this customer will be very hard to satisfy.
  • We just want to pick your brains. Weigh whether it is worthwhile to give free advice. If you do offer free advice, establish when to cut it off.
  • Sorry, we have switched horses mid-stream. Things go well until the client assigns a new person to take over the project/the negotiations/the relationship. Resolve issues before continuing. Re-define and/or re-negotiate when the new person arrives.
  • We need special rates/prices. Make a fair proposal with two or three options. Stress the value of what you are providing. If the client insists on a discount, cut back on deliverables or quantities. Don't make additional price cuts. A watered down product or service will not satisfy the customer or client.

Many of the problems businesses have with customers and clients stem from poor communications and an incomplete understanding of what the customer or client needs, when, why, and for what price. Another problem is that the customer or client may not have a clear understanding of what the vendor can provide.

We provide business intelligence for growing companies.

Copyright 11/12 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.

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