What Keeps You Awake at Night?
We all have at one time or another dealt with a difficult person. It could be someone close to us or someone for whatever reason we just did not get along with.
We never quite understand why that person wants to be difficult. We think we are a nice person and are told so by many others who we get along famously with. Yet, there is that one individual who seems to relish seeing us get upset or agitated with them and their behavior towards us. As hard as we try to avoid them, it seems that the more we do, the more we come in contact with them.
When it is a client that is the source of our angina, there is no getting away from them, unless we take the dramatic step of not doing business with them. But, they may have a lot of influence with the business community for reasons we don’t understand and to cut them off could be harmful to business with clients we do not want to lose. So, we suck it up and do the best that we can, all the while hating the thought of meeting with or talking to them.
Is this something that Keeps You Awake at Night?
Despite having 99 great clients, is there that one person who irritates us so much that it disturbs us not only during the work day, but when we try to get a good night’s sleep? Somehow they pop into our subconscious and we lie awake thinking about them and how much better off we would be if we didn’t have to deal with them.
If this is your situation, there are steps that you can and should take to at least mitigate your anxiety. These are:
1. Stay calm and rant when you are alone
If the client is screaming or making a scene you’ve got to remain cool and calm. Stooping to their level demotes you and elevates them and their behavior.
People will often mirror the emotional signals you emit. When you’re angry, you’ll likely get an angry rise out of the person you are dealing with. By staying calm, you can encourage them to be calm as well and de-escalate what could be a nasty situation.
2. Listen to what they are trying to tell you
Sometimes a difficult client feels that they have lost control and no one is listening to them and their concerns. By being difficult they believe that they will be heard. If you simply take the time to listen to their problems that could be all that’s needed to solve their issue.
Ensure that the client understands that you’re focused on their problem real or imagined. Ask follow-up questions, repeat their statements back to them, and acknowledge that you hear them and understand what they are saying. Ask about specifics.
When a client feels their questions or concerns aren’t being dealt with, they generalize by saying “Everything’s wrong” or “Nothing’s working!” By getting details about what is really bothering them you can get to the root cause of the problem and properly deal with it.
3. Respond to their problem promptly
When a client raises an issue, make it a priority to get it sorted out ASAP. By doing so, you are validating the client and his / her concern. You are then showing understanding and concern and are establishing a good communication, which is what they want and need.
4. Figure out what happened
Client problems sometimes arise when they have expectations that are out of alignment with the service you deliver. They can also occur when a communications issue has made them believe one thing, when actually the opposite is true.
If this occurs, find out where things went wrong and how you might be able to improve your processes or communication in the future.
5. Offer a solution or solution options
This isn’t about admitting you’re wrong but in finding a way to solve the problem. If you’re in the wrong, admit it and show the client how you’ll make amends and get their project back on track.
If the client is in the wrong, then point to the relevant clauses in their contract or letter of agreement, and explain that you’re happy to make modifications, if needed. But make sure there is a clear understanding of the new agreement and what they can expect from hereon.
If a communication breakdown is to blame, offer alternative ways to communicate. Give the client options so they can decide what works best for them.
6. Cut your losses
Finding a solution to a difficult client may affect your bottom line. At the end of a difficult client’s job, you may come away without any profit or even a loss for all of your efforts.
Your reputation and integrity are more important than your bottom line. Fixing the problem even if it comes at a loss can still benefit you. Your difficult client may turn into a dream client and tell their associates how you went the extra mile for them.
If you aren’t able to fix an issue you may have to terminate the client. This can be discouraging, but if you keep your dealings professional, you’ll come out stronger and smarter.
7. Review what happened and learn from it
Do a post mortem on what occurred. Ask yourself:
- How and why did this situation arise in the first place?
- What could I have done to prevent it?
- What lessons have I earned that I can apply in the future?
There may be simple solutions that could prevent a repeat situation. Or you may just discover that some clients are just poor business people and will give you a hard time, no matter what.
Learn to spot this type of person before you accept an engagement and decide then if you want to work with them, or not.
The client is always right is an ancient truism that is not always correct. Realize this and decide if and how you want to deal with such a person.
When worst comes to worst and having to fire a difficult client
Sometimes, even following these steps the relationship between you and your client doesn’t get any better. You must remember to focus on the clients who bring in the majority of your revenue, and are the easiest to work with. Getting rid of your difficult client or clients and frees you up to find and work with A-list clients thereby improving your bottom line.
When firing a client, you will need to:
Check your contract or engagement letter. You should have included terms about terminating the agreement in your contracts.
Wind up important work. Leaving a client in the middle of a vital project may harm your reputation. Try to complete important contracted work before proceeding with the termination.
Refer them elsewhere. Just because a client isn’t the right fit for your business, doesn’t mean they won’t find the help they need somewhere else. Find some potential firms the client may wish to engage with. Once they’ve started a new service, help them to move their data to the new firm.
In my 30 years of consulting, I have had many great clients, whom I also call my friends. I have also had difficult ones who I stopped working with after completing my efforts with them. I was certainly glad when those engagements were over.
In all cases, I kept my cool throughout the time we worked together, even when some of them said some very unprofessional and untrue things to and about me.
While working with them bothered me, I did not lose sleep over them. It wasn’t worth the bother and I knew that they weren’t losing any sleep over me, so why should I be the one to suffer?
You need to do the same. There are too many good companies, people and clients in the world to be bothered by a few difficult ones. Find and keep the good ones and rid yourself of the difficult ones. And in the meantime, make sure that this is not something that “Keeps You Awake at Night”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter H. Christian was a founding partner and president of espi, a business consulting firm in Northeastern PA. Previously he was an Executive at Crayola Corporation. He has worked with 300+ clients in business development, profit improvement, operations, IS selection and implementation, and Project Management. He has 40+ years of experience in strategic and facility planning, CI, lean, and supply chain. He has helped companies to realize millions of dollars in cost reductions and profit improvements adding and retaining thousands of jobs. He has authored the Amazon bestselling business books, “What About the Vermin Problem?” and “Influences and Influencers” and is published in a variety of professional magazines.