Industry News

5 Types Of Problem Clients And How To Manage Them

Whether you’re a freelance designer, a member of an in-house agency or a PM at a Fortune 500 brand in charge of customer onboarding, we’ve all experienced clients who are agreeable and pleasant to work with and those who live at the opposite end of the spectrum as well. They are easy to spot in the crowd, whether their behavior happens during the sales process, at kick-off, or further along in your relationship. You start getting 20 emails a day, phone calls at all hours or complete radio silence. On one hand, how will you get through your task list if you can’t get a minute to work on something? On the other, how do you move a project forward if there is nothing to work on? In this post, we’ll look at the different types of “problem clients” and how you can respond to them the next time a project comes down your pipeline.


Indecision Is Their Middle Name


They don’t know what they want, but they do know what they don’t want. You work to create a proposal for them, all of the options are clearly defined, but somehow their indecision puts a halt to moving the project along. All of your hard work gets redone over and over again and your costs start to add up for work that isn’t even in progress yet. If they can’t make a decision at the beginning of the process, this tendency likely won’t improve as you continue to work with them.


How to work with this client: With this type of client you should place your focus on getting your plan of action documented and signed off as soon as possible. If you have a clear, well-scoped plan, you can use that as a way to remain on course and point to it when indecision creeps in.


They’ve Mastered The Disappearing Act


Just when you feel like you’ve established a good connection and relationship with your client, they disappear. Sometimes, you hear back from them the same day, other times you don’t hear back for weeks or even months. Your work is left at a standstill. You may have to drop the project and live with the sunk cost or you may be forced to reach out to their superior to get things done, which can sometimes damage the relationship that you’ve established.


How to work with this client: Make sure you get all of their contact info immediately (and maybe the contact info of their boss if that person exists). You can send as many emails and call them as much as you want, but if they don’t answer, it’s pointless. When response times start to lengthen, remind them of their desired completion date and that further delays will jeopardize meeting that date. Reminding them that their lack of communication has real consequences often helps.


Everything Is Important And Should Have Been Finished Yesterday


You have a phone call to discuss an idea or potential project. The next day, your client sends an email asking why they haven’t received X deliverable yet. They think that just because it was discussed, it should already be in motion. Their expectations and reality are often not aligned.


How to work with this client: Make sure that when you are discussing potential plans, the intent of the conversation is clear. Any work that comes from that discussion with be scoped and a timeline determined separately. Be upfront about what the process entails and how long it will take to accomplish it. It wouldn’t hurt to send it over in an email, so it’s documented and can be referenced if necessary.


Money On Their Mind


For every decision that is made, the first question is, “How much will this cost?” When a client is so focused on the price tag, a couple of things should pop into your mind. First, why are they so concerned about cost? Second, how can I show them the value in what I’m proposing, so that cost becomes less of a concern? It is important to consider your client’s budget, but it is just as important to do your part to show them the benefits of what you’re offering. This is also an opportunity to begin to build trust with the client.


How to work with this client: Have the cost conversation in the beginning and get buy-in then. If a client continues to ask for things that don’t fall within the scope of what was planned, you need to hold firm. There might be a rare exception, but reinforcing your pricing boundaries is critical to your business and establishing the foundation that you know your product or service is worth the agreed-upon price.


Things Are Good, Until They Aren’t


Things have been going well up to this point. You think you’ve established a mutually beneficial relationship, however, when you push back on a request that is clearly out of scope, things spiral downward at a rapid rate. From then on, you’re questioned during every conversation and on every decision. Goodwill has been replaced with suspicion.


How to work with this client: Understand that their reaction probably has nothing to do with something you did. Maybe they are getting drilled by their supervisor on the project, or having difficulty balancing their own day-to-day workload. The best thing you can do is ask for understanding and try to be as gentle with the situation as possible. Sometimes, just showing that you care about them as a person will set things back on track.


You might be thinking, “It can’t be that easy!” and you’re probably right. In reality, we are working with other human beings and the variability that entails. Our emotions, tolerances and confidence levels fluctuate on a daily basis. Sometimes, you might have clients that possess characteristics from a few of these types or come across new types we haven’t even mentioned. The important thing is to be aware of the red flags that signal you and your client may not be on the same page and be proactive in developing strategies to keep the project and the working relationship on track.