How to deal with difficult clients

Here’s a bit of hilarity to brighten your day. Central Desktop’s newest infographic highlights eight types of agency clients. From The Intruder to The Arsonist to The Ghost to The Henchman, all the stereotypes are covered. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but also meant to help you deal with the many varying personalities you will encounter when dealing with clients, or with humans in general.

In my years as an agency media director and account director, I worked with many different personality types – including one long-term client who, for many years,  wouldn’t respect me or my work. One day he angered me so much I screamed at him for five minutes straight, telling him I knew exactly what the hell I was doing and he should shut up and listen to what I have to say.

While I certainly don’t recommend letting your anger get the best of you or screaming at your clients, in this particular case my years of attempting to placate, coddle and generally bend over for this particular client never worked. It wasn’t until I stood up to him with the same forceful authority he always commanded that he respected me. And from that point on, our relationship was wonderful.

To create a healthy agency-client relationship, you have to truly understand not only what your client needs but why they need it and in what format. What may seem like a silly request wouldn’t be made in the first place if it weren’t important in some way to the client or another person in their company.

In any dealings with a difficult client, there are four key practices to remember:

Listen.
Pay very close attention to what your client is telling and/or asking you. Make eye contact. Nod your head. Take concise notes. And, for the love of God, don’t text, tweet, like, pin or send an email while in a meeting or on the phone with your client.

Repeat.
Say to the client, “So what you’re telling me is…” and then summarize in your own words what you heard the client say. This will enable clarification of any misunderstood points and allow the client to expand upon the shared information and/or request.

Document.
No one likes to write call reports/conference reports/whatever you choose to call them. But these documents are yet another method to clearly convey what the client said, what you heard and what the two of you agreed to as an outcome.

Entertain.
Yes, entertain. After all, you are the agency. The client is your customer. Money flows from client to agency. In any business dealing it’s incumbent upon the party receiving the money to give back. And in business, giving back usually means entertaining. So take your client out to lunch or dinner, buy them tickets to their favorite sporting event, hook them up with an exclusive rental property. And take the time to get to know them as a human being, not just a paying client. Fostering a mutually friendly bond will go much further towards strengthening a relationship than even the most well-oiled process or procedure.

None of this should necessarily be new to you, but we all need a reminder from time to time that maintaining a good agency-client relationship requires excellent conversation skills and excellent conversation skills take effort. Give these points some thought and consider how you can implement them when dealing with your clients, difficult or otherwise.

Steve Hall
Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, Monster.com and Marshmallow Fluff.

One Response to How to deal with difficult clients

  1. Steve

    Excellent suggestions and technique to deal with difficult clients. I would also add that if all else fails be prepared to let go of the client. It’s not worth spending your time and effort with the clients who repeatedly make undue demands and sap your resources. “Three strikes and you are out” can be applied to dealing with difficult clients as well.

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