At marketing and professional services agencies, difficult clients are simply par for the course. You expect to encounter people who micromanage your work, take too long on key decisions and approvals, or make unrealistic demands at the very last minute. 

However, it’s important to remember that so-called “difficult” clients are not deliberately trying to cause you stress (or, at least, most of them aren’t). They want to ensure the best value for their business. It may be hard to accept, but sometimes, the “difficulty” is caused by agency failures. 

Let’s look at how to deal with challenging clients effectively and explore some steps that can help prevent these tough situations in the first place.

Clarify goals

It can be annoying when clients ask for extra work that wasn’t discussed previously — but were the scope and goals of the project made clear from the outset? If not, you’re almost guaranteed to experience scope creep

Be as specific as possible when outlining the scope of work in your initial agreement, from the amount of content you’ll deliver to when they can expect it. Give the client a chance to add or change elements and define their responsibilities.

This way, if they ask for something that steps outside the project scope, you can point back to your agreement and explain how this request differs from what was set out. If you can provide the service they need, you can update your price and agreement. If you can’t, make this clear and recommend a different agency.

Establish expectations early on

Each client will have a different way of working and communicating, so it can be helpful to clarify certain points early on to avoid disagreements.

  • Your communication methods: Do you keep everything in Slack? Are you happy to receive calls and texts, or is email preferable? 
  • Their point of contact: Tell them exactly who to contact with questions or concerns. 
  • Your response times: Will you respond on the same day or within a 24- or 48-hour window? Are you contactable outside office hours?
  • When you’ll send materials: How far in advance will materials be ready for their review? Will you send over campaign assets and publishing schedules monthly or weekly?
  • When you’ll require their feedback: Set a deadline for approvals so that work can move forward promptly. If these deadlines are regularly missed, adjust your schedule to avoid future issues.

Simplify decision-making

Your clients are taking eons to make a simple strategy decision, and you just want to get started on the actual work. But is the decision really that simple? Are you perhaps giving them too many choices and too little guidance on which to pick?

Instead of presenting the client with five possible Instagram strategies, show them two, and explain what you think might work best for their company. After all, clients come to you for your expertise, so it’s perfectly acceptable to steer them toward what you believe to be the right path.

Ensure your communication is crystal clear

Your client may not be the best at communicating, but you have to be. If a particular deadline is absolutely unmissable, it’s your job to confirm that the client understands this. Stress the importance of deadlines and milestones from the start, give clients enough information to complete your requests, and check that your chosen communication platform is accessible and easy to use. It can be easy to blame clients for issues and setbacks, but make sure all your bases are covered first.

Keep a record of everything

We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve gone to someone for approval on a deliverable, only for them to deny ever receiving it. It’s frustrating, but it also demonstrates the importance of keeping a record of everything on a project. Data is your number one line of defense against an angry client.

Manage any change requests formally to prevent scope creep, keep clients in the loop on requested changes, and ensure there are no surprises further down the road. Having a record is good for the clients, too, as they’ll be able to see that the project is on track.

Demonstrate your value

Your clients need to see how your agency’s efforts generate ROI for their business. Remember, data is your friend. Compile reports to show how your work helps them reach their target audiences, build brand awareness, and generate revenue. If the campaign is ongoing, schedule weekly or monthly reports to be sent automatically to their inboxes. This way, they’ll have the data they need to make decisions — and you will be confident that they understand how your efforts impact the business.

How to manage client relationships with Wrike

Keeping clients happy is easy with Wrike’s client management software. Centralize project information on one platform so that important data is accessible to all stakeholders. Avoid losing track of client requests with custom intake forms that ensure tasks are assigned to the right team members. Calendars and Gantt charts give clients a bird’s-eye view of project progress, while dynamic reports showcase your results (and prove your value). 

Want to revamp your client relationship management? Get a two-week free trial of Wrike today.