3 Lessons for Handling Challenging Clients

3 Lessons for Handling Challenging Clients
Image credit: Kurt Bauschardt | Flickr
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One of the best and worst parts about my job is working with clients. There is nothing more rewarding or challenging than making a client happy. And here, sometimes, I get really lucky, working with people who are gracious, respectful and even excited to work with me.

Related: 4 Tips to Forge Winning Client Relationships for the Long-Term

Other times, not so much. And it's those times when I have to remember to stay cool and handle issues head-on so that they don’t get even worse. Here are a few of the lessons I've learned.

1. Expectation vs. reality

Over-the-top expectations can be a big problem, especially when someone is working with a company for the first time. That person may have surfed the Internet to get an idea of what to expect, or talked to an “expert” friend. And as a result, the initial meeting may feel to that client like more of a reality check than anything else; other times, it may feel like a huge slap in the face.

As the business owner, helping customers to understand your pricing, your payment terms, the amount of time you'll be involved in a project and how much of the client's involvement you’ll need, are vital things to mention in an initial meeting. This is how you avoid miscommunications and set boundaries for your customer.

2. The 80/20 rule

It’s a pretty well-known idea that 20 percent of your customer base creates 80 percent of your business. In the context of managing relationships with clients, that 20 percent is the part that you want to focus your energy on. Everything else should just be background noise. Separating out those repeat clients who respect you and are excited to work with you on a continual basis from the rest of your clients is vital for forming marketing strategies and keeping your priorities straight.

I read an article about a young woman who had started up a small business, something just for residual income but enough to keep her busy. She had a customer who would constantly email her, asking for information on the products she sold. This then turned into the customer asking for discounts, package deals, new product styles or colors.

Related: Strategies for Saying No: When and How to Turn Down Opportunities

After months of this, the young business owner realized that she was doing all this work to make one customer happy, but she hadn’t made even a single sale from this person! This customer was probably never going to do anything but waste her time. The conclusion here? It’s important that we, as business owners, keep our customers (and ourselves) in check.

3. Terminate

Sometimes, even when you’ve done all you can to appease a customer, set boundaries and offer realistic expectations, you’ll still have a few who seem to make it their life’s goal to make you feel like you and your business are inadequate. Those are the times where you have to ask yourself, is this a customer even worth having? Usually the answer is no.

It’s a hard choice to make, and even harder to break the news gently to your customer. But when you consider the long-term effect on you, your employees and your company as a whole, then it is necessary to cut out that negative relationship so that you can focus on building better ones with clients who want to work with you toward a common -- and positive -- goal.

Related: It's Not Me, It's You: When to End a Toxic Client Relationship