Incite by Design

Caustic visions and shared thoughts on design, marketing, creativity, philanthropy, pop culture and business philosophy by Toronto design firm, Ricksticks Inc.


Dealing with tough clients as a service provider

Ever have one of those clients that cause your well oiled machine to come to a grinding halt? You know, the type of client who wants the moon and stars delivered yesterday, yet claim poverty when billing rolls around? Hmm...I promise, I won't tell.

Dealing with difficult clients is a part of business. One of the ways you can protect yourself is, of course, through a well defined contract. Another way is through ongoing, consistently good customer service.

This is the part that's tough. There are times when "grinning and bearing" it can be hard, especially when projects are being stalled, waylaid, or kybashed altogether. Fair, probably not, but part of being a successful entrepreneur is to know when to take a risk and when to cut your losses.

Dealing with a tough client as a service provider presents many obstacles. First off, the definition of services needs to be very clearly laid out, as well as client expectations. Feeling out the situation is not enough, get everything in writing. Sound distrustful? It's not. It is simply good business. Anyone serious about retaining your services will expect to sign a contract. It's for their protection as well.

One red flag to watch for is the prospect who wants you to provide services at cost (or free) in exchange for potential business down the road. You know the type; they start their pitch out with "I have a proposition for you..." Chances are, if they don't have the money up front to pay for your time and services, they won't later. I rarely see these "big opportunities" develop. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Further to this, as a matter of good business, I believe that mutual respect calls for paying someone for their efforts. As a matter of personal ideology (yes, ideology has its place in even business), I have real problems with haggling. Don't get me wrong, deals are cut that mutually benefit both parties, but beware the haggler. They won't respect you or your services.

If you place value on the hard work and services another provides, you will likely receive the same treatment in turn (the "what goes around comes around" principle). Contrary to popular business figureheads out there - ahem - you can be a successful entrepreneur without the cutthroat cliches.

But these are preventive measures. What do you do once you are mired in a arduous project that's rapidly getting worse?

My advice is this: Maintain a positive attitude and continue doing everything in your power to provide the best service you possibly can. Maintaining a friendly disposition may be one of the most difficult things you have to do in the face of another person's behavorior, but trust me, this is your best bet. While keeping a level head helps to ensure payment down the road, it also saves your reputation. You don't know everyone your client knows, and therefore it is best to always keep a professional demeanor. Good customer service, even in the face of the extremely tough to please client, is remembered. Make the rest of the project as easy as possible by using good judgment.

Once all is said and done, and your client has received their finished project, don't hold grudges. Call together a team meeting and assess the situation. Make the best of it by learning from the experience. Finally, do something to reward staff or associates involved in the project. It's likely they are as drained as you and need an afternoon pizza party or creative respite.

Tell me what you do to deal with difficult clients / customers.