Dealing with difficult clients

Sometime people can be difficult. Sadly, many never learned the basics way back in kindergarten: sharing, kindness, politeness and helping others. And even the very best people—the ones who are generally receptive, professional, understanding and easy to work with—have bad days and don’t always act or react in a predictable way.

Clients are no different, and the vendor-client relationship is a unique one. As a provider of goods or services, your company wants to do all it can to keep its customers happy, and accommodate their needs and expectations. When the going gets tough, here are a few tips for dealing with someone who’s a real Oscar the Grouch:

1. Remember, you can’t control anyone’s actions but your own. Just because a client is rude or snippy doesn’t mean you have to lower yourself to their level. The very best sports teams perform at a high level regardless of the competition, and so should you. Don’t trade in the short-term smug satisfaction of a snippy response for the long-term pain of losing that client.
2. It’s hard to be the bigger person. If good behavior were easy, the world would be a happier place. Remember that being the bigger person is good exercise for your soul. Just like a tough workout at the gym, a tough workout of your self-restraint builds character.
3. Be up-front and clear about expectations. Zen-like statements aside, it’s just good business practice to be clear ahead of time with clients about what’s expected: what you will do, what they will do, and when. And put in in writing. It can be part of a contract or schedule of deliverables. Then, if problems arise, you can refer back to that document for clarification.
4. Do what you say you’re going to do. Of course, tip #3 is meaningless if you don’t have the discipline to follow the game plan. Become known as someone who keeps their word and meets (or beats) deadlines.
5. If all else fails, do whatever it takes. Sometimes nothing pleases a client, and it’s not even because they’re unreasonable or asking the impossible. They’re just not happy. It’s up to you to change that. Drive to the FedEx box at the airport in rush hour traffic to drop off those proofs. Take work home. Offer a discount. If you follow steps 1-4, this won’t happen often. But be prepared when it does. Odds are, your client will tell others the lengths you went to just to make them happy.

The takeaway value of this piece is: be the best you can be. We can’t control other people, the weather, the price of gas or that client who makes Godzilla seem chummy, but we can control our own responses to all of these things.

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