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Big inhale, bigger exhale.  Repeat.  Now pour that fresh cup of coffee (or pour that glass of wine), and let’s chat a little before you do, say or send something that you will regret out of anger or frustration.  Rule of thumb: Never respond to anyone out of anger.  Always give yourself some time to digest that negativity and get your head right.

As you are probably already aware, in another life I was working in Human Resources with a focus on recruitment & retention, training and employee relations.  In this type of work, our main goal is towards building positive relations with employees and employee groups helping to encourage, develop and foster a positive work environment for all.  This was not an easy feat.

Day after day, I would be called into the blue office for yet another conflict resolution meeting.  It sometimes felt like I was a parent being called into the principals office, but in this case, I played both the parent and the principal.
Although there were a vast number of disputes, there was one main culprit which sparked them all. And this culprit affects us all, whether in our personal life or our professional life – MISCOMMUNICATION (or lack of communication altogether).

Now that I do freelance work, this can be a lot more challenging.  The pursuit to establish and strengthen working relationships with my clients takes a little more effort.  We don’t work in the same building or under one company umbrella so the ease of access to get a hold of one another does not come easy.  I find my clients are equally as busy as I am on a daily basis so our schedules often conflict and it’s hard to find that “perfect time” to chat.  And as a blogger, sometimes I notice that despite my many efforts to keep relationships going, most often campaigns I work with them on run on an as-needed basis, and then shortly thereafter, I don’t really hear from them again until the next one. 

But these aren’t the difficult clients I’m deciphering; the onerous ones I’ve dissected in special groupings below.  These are the ones that you will need to be more wary of including a few of my own tips that may prove helpful.

1) THE VANISHING NON-PAYERS

You know the scenario.  You collaborate harmoniously on a project/campaign, naturally, the client is fantastic and ready to work alongside you in the beginning, and then once the work is complete and the invoice has been sent, vamoose!  They disappear faster than they appeared.

This one is not only frustrating and annoying, but it’s illegal and unethical.
I have to count my lucky stars that I rarely have to deal with this type of client (I’ve got so many great ones!), but there have been a couple that have done this to me and it was certainly very discouraging.

First & foremost, ensure the payment terms are set in place well in advance before accepting any campaign (i.e. 15/30/60 day payment – post invoice/publication, etc.) and included in either the contract of services or in an email (which is also legally binding).

Once you’ve sent your invoice and you’ve not heard back or received your payment within the agreed upon payment timeframe, give it another week or two and then feel free to follow up in an email.
There are chances your invoice fell through the cracks so the tone of this email shouldn’t be too firm.
If after this you have not received a reply on the status of your payment nor a response from the client (which would have been considerate), then another email with a more firm tone is appropriate. A phone call at this point would be good too.

After a second attempt and a very late payment and still nothing, then there’s certainly a cause for concern.
Your best course of action would be to contact (verbally if possible) the Accounting department first and as a final resort (which I hope none of you ever have to deal with), is proceeding with legal action.
Nobody wants to ever have to go through that. It’s not just taxing for you but it’s also damaging to the relationship and an almost certain bridge-burner.
It’s not say that I would ever want to work with this client again (Three words: Red Flag List), but it’s always nice to remain civil.

2) THE TRADITIONALIST 

Tradition is a good thing.  It’s crucial in our ever-changing and swift society to cinch onto some form of tradition so that we do not lose the value in it and can pass to other generations.
There are many traditions I hold onto firmly in my personal life and work life because I feel they are valuable for me and for others. However, it’s very repressing when dealing with a client that is overly conservative and set in their ways and will not listen to any of your input or ideas, even if you know it will greatly and positively impact your end goals.  

So how to deal?  Throw those facts at ’em!  You try your best to share your ideas and input and ensure that you can back it up with some facts and numbers proving how this can be a success if they include your ideas.  Put together an amazing slideshow for them and present the heck out of it.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  And if that still doesn’t work, then go ahead with their course of action, and if that fails (which most likely will if they aren’t open to change), then hopefully they will let you take full reign next time around (and perhaps you should charge more too! Just saying.)

3) THE PLATONIST

Total opposite of The Traditionalist is yet another client, that although can be delightful and refreshing to work with, can at times be a little too offbeat and avant-garde.  How can being really creative pose as a negative?  It can’t unless there’s a lack of plausibility.  This is the client that has a vision without a stable strategy.  The one that prefers to take as many risks as possible, blindfolded.  You can already see this is being a train wreck waiting to happen.  Whether this is your superior or not, your input is extremely valuable to them.  They wouldn’t have included you to take part in this if it wasn’t.  Devise a better game plan and arrange a one-on-one to share it.  You just never know — this may land you a bonus or better yet, a promotion! 😉 

4) THE BLACK MAMBA

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?  I named this client the Black Mamba for good reason.  What is a Black Mamba, anyways?  The Black Mamba is one of the most poisonous snakes ever.  A single bite contains enough venom to kill ten people.  It can travel as fast as 20 km/h, which makes it the fastest snake on the planet. The Black Mamba will bite a number of times when it attacks, and if the bite is not treated, it is almost always going to result in death.

Similar to the Black Mamba, this client is extremely toxic.  They are the negative nancy’s, the ones that seem to always be upset and at times can be very belligerent.  If something doesn’t go as planned or their way, they will often lash out on anyone and everyone including you.  They treat you like you’re incompetent and rarely, if ever, offer any form of constructive affirmation.  As far as they’re concerned, they are paying you to do a job without any real assistance or guidance because that’s what they’re paying you for, and when you do your job, it’s never good enough or they find something unfavourable almost all the time. 

I’ve had one boss like this in the past, but no clients (thank goodness!), but I have seen and heard of this type and seen the corrosive repercussions that follow.  

The best way to deal with a client like this is to be completely transparent with your feelings early on in the collaboration.  You don’t want to allow this to linger, because much like refusing to treat a bite from a Black Mamba right away, the results can be harmful.  It is very detrimental to your business relationship and you don’t want this to impact your reputation in any way either.  Let’s not forget how this will affect your health as well; stress is big environmental factor that sparks many illnesses.  If that didn’t work for you, this is the time to reevaluate whether or not working with this particular client is even worth the money and agony at this point.  There will be more opportunities out there, I promise.  

Through all this, you need to remember how relevant your work is and most importantly, how valuable.  Never allow repugnant experiences or people demote you or have you second guess your worth and skill ever.  How you professionally approach and deal with these transactions is your good character and will often not go unnoticed.

Have you ever had to deal with any one of these types of clients?  How did you deal?  What are your own professional tips on dealing with difficult clients?

5 comments on “How To Remain Professional When Dealing with Difficult Clients”

  1. I used to work retail and some people were just impossible to please. I always stayed friendly but after they left I would go into the back and let go of some steam.

    • I totally remember those days. There are times that customers aren’t actually right and take advantage. At the same time, as hard as it can be dealing with frustrating clients, as long as it’s not happening often, we need to learn to get through it with as much poise as possible (ha-ha!). In the end, you will always look better!

  2. So hard to do with some people but also very important when it comes to business/dealing with clients. You made some very good tips in this post!

  3. I enjoyed reading your blog post. It can be very difficult to remain calm and professional when you get annoying people like that

    • Oh absolutely. Especially when dealing with clients. Your response and professionalism throughout is so important. Trying to stay professional when upset is hard – Ha-ha! But it’s doable. 😉 Thanks for the read!

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