Proactive measures to help keep expectations in check.
When it comes to difficult clients--those whose incessant emails, calls and texts drain your time and pull you away from other business matters--an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The keys are setting reasonable expectations, establishing a transparent communication strategy and making the client feel heard and understood.
Begin with a Written Contract
Nothing is more valuable in establishing good client relationships than setting expectations, deliverables and schedules in writing prior to beginning any work. A contract needn't be written by a lawyer or filled with legalese, though it may be helpful to have an attorney draw up a boilerplate that you can revise as needed. Critical to this process is establishing the scope of work to be done--including revisions--so that if a client continues to demand additional work, you can check those demands against a clearly delineated list. The process of negotiating a contract can also forestall problems such as an unworkable budget or schedule, and prevent you from taking on more than you can reasonably deliver. And, remember that clients have responsibilities as well--including specifications and interim approvals--that require deadlines.
Develop a Thicker Skin
Remember not to take criticism personally, and to keep the tone of any exchange calm and professional. Establish yourself, your team and your company as the experts with the knowledge and tools to execute the job. Difficult clients can be discouraging, but they can also provide a valuable learning experience. If you can satisfy their needs and win them over, you've positioned yourself to deliver beyond the expectations of your broader customer base.
One of the greatest sources of client frustration (and nagging) is not knowing where a project stands at any given moment. You can head off a client's barrage of calls and emails with regularly scheduled updates that apprise a client weekly, for instance, of what work has been accomplished, what is planned for the coming week and any anticipated roadblocks or other issues. You should also remind clients of any deliverables you are expecting from them. Group your questions and responsibilities into an easy-to-follow to-do list for your client.
Often, clients simply want to be sure they're being heard. Get into the habit of "playing back" their comment or question so they know you understood them correctly.
Learn from Experience
The more you work with a client, whether easy or difficult, the more you'll be able to anticipate problems and avoid them ahead of time. Consider your contract template an ever-evolving document, and update it regularly to address issues that arise with each new client.
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