The Bad Client [Part 1]: Turn it around!
I’m pretty sure it’s the curse of the tech industry today. We all start a project with high expectations of creating something that is perfect for the client. We are confident it will help them achieve their end goals and do it quickly with the least friction. And then it happens — The toxic client rears their ugly head. Constantly second guessing your work, the timelines drag out, unrealistic expectations form, and everyone starts playing the blame game. Our dream of a smooth project is gone. In the trash. And, soon enough, everyone starts looking really closely at the contract we signed.
All isn’t lost. There is a way to turn this around. Sure, it will take work, but your dedication may just earn you a loyal client that will happily bring you more business down the road. How do you get there? It may just be simpler than you think.
We are all stuck in our heads.
We, as humans, are creatures designed to have relationships that benefit from really knowing one another — face to face. In this industry, most of our interactions with the client are limited to short conversations, texts, and emails. This disconnects us from these people that we already hardly know, but rely on for our income. Conflict and stress results.
“Your handshake is your bond.” — Victor Kiam
If that handshake is impossible, then what? Use empathy skills. The person on the other side of the screen is just as human as you. Their stresses are sometimes projected into their work. Are they suffering from a death in the family? Illness? Divorce? There is no way that you could possibly know, but being able to utilize a few key empathy skills can help to redirect them to the work at hand. This article by Ruth Hill really walks you through the process of using empathy to smooth over those stressful moments that can damage your relationship with the client. So use active listening, validation, and engagement for positive interactions!
Talk, Talk, Talk, Listen?
You already have your standard way of communicating with your clients. Email, teleconferencing services, chat systems, and video chat have always worked for you before, so they will work this time, right? Maybe, but it’s not a guarantee. You need to assess your communication OFTEN. What worked for Client #1 may not work with Client #2. Even different people at the same company have very different communication methods! So, how do you figure out what will work? Well… You ask, utilize, analyze, and adjust.
- Ask: Take the time and actually ask what works best for not only the client AND all the members of both teams. Let them guide how often you will communicate and the schedule.
- Utilize: Honor their choices even if it means using a solution than you aren’t familiar with. The goal is communication, not converting your client to a new system.
- Analyze: Is this working? We all get that “pit of our stomach” bad feeling that let’s us know if all is well. Trust this instinct and communicate if you may have missed anything.
- Adjust: Ok, you discover it isn’t working. Now what? Offer solutions that may work better and share examples of your previous experiences with them. Allow the client to choose from the options you presented.
- Repeat: Repeat steps 2 to 5 to maintain the communication.
Be clear and concise in all your communications and stay ACTIVE. Those agreed upon mediums will be worthless if they aren’t used. Adhere to the agreed upon communication schedule and methods by using deliberate, continued contact.
Give positivity, get positivity
I think this probably goes without saying, but stay positive. When you are getting negativity forced upon you, it is VERY easy to give it back. Park your pride and focus on the goals at hand instead of the hurt you feel in the moment. Exercising the “Golden Rule” is a good start, but following a few simple steps can help stay positive from day one.
- First impressions count: Always greet with positivity. That can be a smile and handshake in person, or even an email that follows the rules of respect. These first moments of contact will define the relationship. Start it positive and it’s most likely to stay positive.
- Maintain the relationship: Communicate, communicate, communicate. Stay connected, actively share your needs, and listen to the needs of the client. Always open and close with positivity.
- Treat everyone well: Clients who are treated well will pay that forward. Not only will you benefit, but everyone down the line as well. Value them as not only clients, but the people they are as well.
- Take feedback personally: Criticism and praise are opportunities to improve. They are equally valuable. Criticism shows us our mistakes and gives us a clear path towards improvement. Praise is harder to act on, but it demonstrates that you are on the right direction and can continue growth towards the end goal. Take this good and bad feedback seriously.
Your client will appreciate your efforts and this positive attitude will come to represent yourself and your company. You will find you are far more confident when approaching your next lead when you know you are establishing the base of a great working relationship!
YOU CAN DO IT
Turning these relationships around IS possible. It takes work, on both sides, but can grow into a continued business relationship that will last for years. We need to pay close attention to treating each other with positivity, actively communicate, and recognize that we are all flawed human beings that have opportunities to grow. If you can set a strong baseline, or negotiate a new one, your business will thrive.
I do know, however, that these steps don’t always fix things. Some clients are just too toxic to continue to work with. In the second part of this article series, I will talk about how to break free of a bad client relationship. Thanks for reading!
Joshua Yuhas, Tinypint