When you're part of a service company, dealing with difficult clients can be nightmarish for everyone involved. There are many types of difficult clients, all of whom will take up your time, use up your patience, and provide little return for the amount of effort they require.

Dealing with difficult clients can be trying at the best of times, but addressing the needs of over-the-top, overly critical, or indecisive customers during a lockdown can take stress to the next level. 

Unfortunately, demanding clients are part of doing business and cannot be avoided. But, for customer-facing professionals, knowing how to manage clients is an important skill — especially in unusual circumstances (like a lockdown).   

By knowing how to deal with difficult clients effectively, you can remain productive and stay focused on delivering strong outcomes. 

Tips for identifying difficult clients

Sometimes you know right from the initial conversation that a client is going to be difficult. Others may seem like amazing clients in the beginning. And, as the relationship progresses, you realize your first impression was wrong.

Identifying problematic clients early is critical as it helps you and your team prepare and plan for how you want to handle them. 

Dealing with difficult clients can take up a lot of time and provide little to no return on your investment. Knowing this upfront, you may choose to end the relationship and cut your losses before too much time is wasted. Or, you may proactively limit the resources and time dedicated to that customer. 

Alternatively, if they have a large spending potential, you may choose to assign more time, money, and resources to them to minimize their potential complaints and attempt to save the relationship. 

Here are four tips for identifying difficult clients early: 

  1. Learn the difficult customer personas. Become familiar with the different types of challenging customers that your team regularly faces. Start with a general list of descriptions and then modify it for your company. Give them personas, just as you would target customer groups. This helps your team remember them and recognize early people who fit the description. 
  2. Pay attention to initial interactions with your website and your other marketing channels. Before someone chose to become a client, they’ve already interacted with your company six to eight times, on average. These encounters offer important insights into what kind of client they will be. If they were already painful as a prospect, they will likely be just as bothersome as a client. 
  3. Share client data across channels and teams. It’s hard to get the real picture of a customer when different people in your organization only see a snippet of what they’re like. Maintaining a central database for logging and tracking volume and type of contact, as well as issues discussed, can help create a clear picture of how difficult or demanding a client really is. 
  4. Track profitability. Ultimately, what you consider troublesome may depend on how much the client is worth to you. For instance, a client worth a million dollars may warrant daily phone calls and updates. However, if a client worth a thousand dollars is demanding the same level of service, you’d likely deem them difficult. It’s important to weigh how much time is being invested against the potential profit you’ll make to determine if a client is reasonably involved or over-the-top.

How to communicate with difficult clients while working remotely

How to communicate with clients effectively often depends on what type of client you’re dealing with and what their expectations are. Communicating with low maintenance clients who are happy with your service is different from communicating with a more critical client. 

Working remotely while adhering to a shelter-in-place order means that your weekly client 1:1 or progress meeting may have a different tone (and certainly a different setting). Understandably, there may also be an extra layer of stress on these calls, so try to be as communicative and understanding as possible.

Ask questions like, “How can we support your business at this time?” or “What new challenges are you hoping to overcome and how can we work together to maintain business continuity for your organization?” 

Here are some more methods you and your team can use when dealing with difficult clients while in lockdown:

  1. Stay calm. Responding to emotion with emotion stokes the fire. It’s important to maintain your composure no matter how outrageous a client gets. 
  2. Listen to their concerns. A client may become difficult because of a negative experience with your company. Make sure you listen to their issues with an open mind. It ensures you don’t overlook any problems with your service or staff that need to be resolved. 
  3. Respond promptly. It’s understandable to dread dealing with a difficult client. But, if you delay it, they can feel ignored and become more challenging. Try to address any complaints or issues as quickly as possible. 
  4. Be empathetic. Using empathy helps make a client feel heard and is a key step to resolving conflict. Empathy can be expressed in numerous ways, including giving them your full attention, acknowledging their feelings, and supporting their point of view. 
  5. Set clear communication expectations. A common struggle with challenging clients is that they communicate either way too much or barely at all. By setting clear guidelines upfront, you can encourage them to keep in touch with just the right amount of communication. Set ground rules around the method of contact, who their contact person is, and how often they should be in contact. 
  6. Keep a record of everything. With any client, it’s crucial to record any deliverables, requirements, and guidelines discussed. But, this becomes even more vital with difficult clients. Clear records in a central database can help support you if a client suddenly tries to claim they never agreed to something or that what you delivered wasn’t what they asked for. 

It’s important to understand a difficult client isn't necessarily a bad client. Often a client can appear difficult due to a misunderstanding or communication breakdown. 

A bad client, on the other hand, will likely remain bad no matter how you handle it. If a client is lying, yelling, or otherwise being abusive, the strategies above may not help. Which is why the best way to deal with bad clients is often by firing them

The easier and more convenient you can make the communication process, the more likely your clients are to interact. Using solutions with live messaging capabilities can help promote open communication. If your client is used to weekly progress meetings, make time for a Zoom call or even a webinar series that addresses some common customer pain points. 

Wrike helps companies communicate with clients effectively

Less than 4% (1 in 26) of unhappy customers complain. The rest just leave. 

Even in unusual circumstances, you must encourage clients to communicate with your service company when they have an issue, a concern, or even a simple question. A complaint gives you a chance to resolve the problem before you lose the client. 

Software that enables clients to edit projects directly, leave comments, and review deliverables at appropriate milestones can also increase communication and engagement. 

Professional services management software that promotes collaboration and transparency can help turn difficult clients into dream clients. Sign up for a free trial today and find out how Wrike can help you deal with your challenging clients, during lockdown and after.