How to surprise and delight the most difficult clients

Clients are tough to please—and rightfully so. For any engagement to be successful, there must be proper alignment between a client’s needs and a vendor’s capabilities. Final deliverables should make a material and meaningful impact on the client’s business.

That said, some relationships may quickly turn sour for any variety of reasons. In those instances, client calls and project meetings become increasingly stressful and the work you do is no longer fun.

Here are a few secret weapons to add to your arsenal. These tips will help you deliver happiness, drive client success and boost overall morale, while also disarming any lingering hostility.

Avoid assumptions and negative labels

Faulty assumptions can be fatal for a vendor-client relationship. Don’t assume or over-interpret. Make it your purpose to know exactly what a client wants and what she is thinking.

“Keep the communication open, refraining from making assumptions or meaning of their behaviors,” says Bettina Pickering, the founder of Aronagh, a people, culture and behavioral change consultancy. “As soon as you label them difficult, they become that. Reframe ‘difficult’ as ‘they know what they want, and it is my job to discover what that is’.” At that point, you will be equipped to create real change.

Develop self-awareness

Sometimes you are the problem.

“It is important that business owners recognize whether a client is being difficult because you aren’t delivering on your defined goals and objectives or if the client is just being needlessly difficult,” says Dave Wakeman of Wakeman Consulting Group.

When you produce subpar results, you need “to be honest with the client and yourself about what is happening,” he continues. “If there are legit reasons for the underperformance, be confident in stating them and explaining the challenges. If it is due to something on your part, explain how you are going to address the issues to get the project back on track.”

In most cases, the client will empathize with the situation and will happily work with you, rather than against you, to test alternative ways to boost performance.

Reiterate capabilities and manage expectations

Over her 10-year tenure as a small business owner, Marilu Holmes has learned “to appreciate difficult clients because they are the ones who force me to improve my systems, becoming more profitable and efficient on the way.”

But when a company expects more than she can offer, she responds by being “clear about what I can and cannot do for them. If one of my products can help them, without having to customize it too much, I offer it—carefully disclosing the cost and turnaround. But if none of my products meet their requirements, I’m not afraid to refer them to someone else.” That way, the client ultimately gets what he wants from the vendor best equipped to deliver on those needs.

Solve real problems

Many firms expend a lot of energy to be crowd pleasers. Generally, that is the wrong way to run a sustainable business.

Marilu Holmes recommends you “[focus] on solving their problems instead of pleasing them.” You will be more effective at earning a business’ long-term loyalty and trust when you dedicate yourself to driving results instead of worrying about how to make them smile.

Fire at will

Since 1995, Kent Lewis has managed more than a thousand client accounts. Now, as founder and president of Anvil Media, Inc., Lewis can confidently advise, “Don’t be afraid to fire a client.”

In certain instances, it makes sense to sever a relationship. “If a difficult client can’t be turned into a valued client, then you need to part ways. The respect you earn from your team after firing bad clients is worth more than any money you can throw at them to continue with the relationship. I’ve fired our two largest clients over the years, and it hurt financially (short-term) but kept the team focused.”

Forcefully removing a client from your roster can feel like a foolishly rogue thing to do. Ultimately, you will realize it is the most prudent action to take because the damaging effects of keeping a bad client around may cost you more than the revenue the account brings in.

What things do you do to earn positive reviews and win recurring business?

And if you’re worried that you are a difficult client, check out this list of tips on not being a client from hell.

Post by Danny Wong

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer, and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label (an award winning menswear company focusing on luxury made-to-measure garments) and does marketing at Grapevine (a platform that drives eCommerce, helping retailers partner with YouTube celebrities). Tweet him @dannywong1190