how to deal with difficult clients

Dealing with Difficult Clients: Will Their New Drop-Dead Time Demand Kill You?

A Demanding Client

Have you ever been between a rock and a hard place?  A demanding client wants your work so fast that it would stress out and be uncomfortable for your staff?  How do you deal with difficult clients?  Do you acquiesce to their demands?  Tell them no, sticking up for your staff? We’ll explore 3 alternatives, and equip you with the best way of handling this, so you’ll be ready when you encounter this predicament.

The Situation

You are in charge of a team of six that builds websites for a website provider. You try to be Q4 collaborative with your group and maintain solid working relationships.

When dealing with customers, you must work out timelines and deliverables with clients. One day, Mindy, who works for a marketing firm that uses your expertise, calls about the deadline for a website your team is building for her.

She wants to move up the deadline by three days, but you’re booked solid with work. You tell her it’s a real problem, but she brushes that aside. “My client wants it sooner.” You hadn’t realized what a demanding client Mindy is!

Tough Customer

You shake your head and tell her that the architecture for the site must be tested, the pages all checked, etc.

She waves aside your reply, saying, “You’ll work your magic!”

In the past, your reaction has been to figure out how to comply with touch customer demands. But this time, your team will bear the brunt of your decision, and they won’t be happy. How should you deal with this difficult client?  Which option should you choose?

Your Choices:

Click the best answer below. Our answer will then highlight with an explanation below.
A. In this case, you can’t be noncompliant or uncooperative with a customer. It’s not worth your job. Your team will understand the bind you’ve been put in.

 No, please try again.

B. Since your client is being inflexible, find a process to discuss alternatives. Don’t just give in and think, “The customer is always right.” You could find common ground.

How to Deal with Difficult Clients

Dimensional Model of Behavior

The Customer is Always Right. Accommodate Them.

When it comes to how to deal with difficult clients, it is helpful to get beyond seeing every obstacle as black or white. Of course, this situation isn’t worth losing your job over, but is choice A your only choice? Think of ways to frame the problem differently. Maybe there’s a third or fourth alternative that the client hasn’t thought of and that would be acceptable to both of you. But how will you approach Mindy to talk about it? Read Choice B.

Explore Alternatives with Your Customer.

Choice B is the best approach for handling difficult clients. While you should make every effort to satisfy, the customer is not always right. Simply running away from engagement with a customer over a difference is Q2 abandonment of your leadership role.

Yes, Mindy is responsible to her client, but you have a loyal internal client — your team. You should at least go to bat for them without risking client wrath. As you may recall, the Q4 way to deal with an objection or disagreement in business is the APAC process:

A = Acknowledge the disagreement
P = Probe for understanding
A = Answer the objection
C = Confirm the decision reached

APAC can help you resist the urge to retreat from conflicts. The key is the Probing component. Once the disagreement is put on the table, you can question Mindy — not in an adversarial Q1 way, but to learn all the information about what is basically a client objection to the original timetable. Probing usually reveals details and information for finding common ground and working out a solution. What’s behind Mindy’s new deadline? Is it really inflexible? Perhaps you could work out a way to provide key portions of the website on the new date.

By questioning (always respectfully, of course), you could help your client see alternatives. You won’t know unless you try the APAC process. Hopefully, it will lead to a solution that is mutually agreeable. At least you will have tried.


Letting the Boss Decide

Regarding choice C, anyone in a management position can tell themselves this one’s for the boss to decide. Only you know when the problem truly needs to go to a higher authority. But if you are merely ducking the kind of proactive engagement that is a function of your job, then putting problems in your boss’s lap without your own due diligence will reflect poorly on you. That Q2 reluctant leadership won’t get you far over time.

Choice B gives you a process for how to deal with difficult clients to solve disagreements.

C. The client has her requirements, but you have responsibilities to your team. This dilemma is above your pay grade. Take it to your boss to provide the solution.

 No, please try again.

Moving On from Dealing with Difficult Clients

Congratulations!  You are now an authority on how to deal with difficult clients. More leadership tips await you.

If you have difficult people that you deal with, our behavior questionnaire is a great, fast tool to get you actionable suggestions on how to deal with your situation.

Knowing what to do is step one. Being able to exhibit good people leadership skills in challenging situations is step two. If you’d like to explore taking the next step, check out our Q4 Leadership Workshop, available in classroom or virtual.

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