We’ve all heard the horror stories of difficult clients. Anyone offering client services has been there.
No company can function effectively when confronted with clients who operate from a place of fear — which is often at the root of most difficult clients you encounter. You can’t do your job well or be recognized for a job well done when your client contact is inadvertently — or deliberately — standing in your way.
Here are six common “bad client” archetypes that can impede your success. After the definition of each client type, I’ve listed some possible tactics you can use to tame those wild beasts in your client roster.
1. Micro Manager
Description: This person wants to control every aspect of your work. It may feel like they don’t trust what you do or that you can never do your job to their satisfaction, but their obsessive compulsiveness is often driven by fear. They believe that if you make a mistake, it is their neck on the line. So they go through painstaking editing processes, which often delay progress and rack up unexpected expenditures on your part.
Tactics: Understand that the micro manager is operating from a place of fear. Instead of riding their fear wave, have a heart-to-heart and find out what you can do to help them feel more comfortable with your work. Also, express how you weren’t prepared for so many revisions on every aspect of your work and how much it is costing you. Could they train you on how to deliver the work in a way that better suits their needs? In the future, put a clause in your contracts that stipulates the number of revisions included in the deal (say, up to three) with a trigger to charge hourly for each additional round.
Description: For the Panicker, everything is an emergency. There’s always a fire to put out somewhere, real or imagined. Something is always about to go wrong, and chances are it is all your fault. The Panicker who will suck you into their panic mode if you’re not careful, setting a work tone that can be extremely disconcerting.
Tactics: Panic is also a manifestation of fear. Why is this person so afraid? Maybe there are machinations behind the scenes at their job that you’re not privy to that have set them into panic mode. Your job is to help alleviate their fears. Ask them flat out what can you do to make their job easier, better. What can you empower them with to help them prove to their higher ups that they — and you – are doing a good job. Work with them to bring the panic level down to a minimum so you can all get your work done without raising anybody’s blood pressure.
Description: The Puppet is not in a power position. Somebody else is pulling the puppet strings, but they have been put out there as your client contact whether they – or you – like it or not. They may be the fall guy for someone else, and if they fall, they’ll inadvertently take you with them. They most likely are inexperienced and may not even understand what you are doing for their company, creating a stream of misunderstandings.
Tactics: If you can’t get to the Puppet Master, then empower the Puppet. They may not even know how their ignorance is undermining your ability to get things done, much less communicate what you’ve accomplished to their boss. Offer to train this person — on your dime — to provide them with enough knowledge so they can play a more productive role as client contact.
Description: The DIY-er knows everything, and thinks they can do it all themselves. But somehow you’ve been hired to do what they perceive to be their job. Or perhaps they’ve been charged with cutting corners so they’d rather do some of the work that should be assigned to you in order to save a buck in the short term. Then they proceed to muck things up which could potentially set you up for failure from the start. This person may have backed themselves into a corner by saying they know more than they do, or biting off more than they can chew.
Tactics: There may be a lot of ego involved here — sensitive ego that, in a pinch, will point fingers of blame at you if anything starts to go wrong. It is up to you to make this person look good while not diminishing your own role in a job well done. Give them kudos often — both directly to them and to their team members or boss. Help them shine within their own organization as an important member of your client relationship. Once they view you as an ally and not the enemy, you can actually shift the situation so you can do the work well and everybody wins.
5. Bean Counter
Description: Bean Counters want numbers. They may stand in the way of progress and innovation if they feel they don’t have the numbers they need. Remember that the Bean Counter might have to report to someone else so they feel they need numbers to justify their every move. You’re just caught in the middle of their insecurities.
Tactics: They want numbers? Give them numbers. It may serve you well to do the extra research to find comparable statistics, to develop spreadsheets that calculate growth, to make a few charts to help assuage the fears of the Bean Counter. Yes, this will take you some time to compile the data, so make sure to build that into future contracts. But if it is numbers they want, go the extra mile to get them numbers.
Description: Beware the Silo-er. They are the most challenging of bad client types because they are wily creatures. They strategically set themselves up as the conduit by which all of the communications between you and the decision-makers flow. They do this so that if there are successes on a project, they can claim them for themselves. If there are failures, you will be the first one they blame.
Tactics: Without direct and open lines of communications with all the key players on your client’s team, you may become silo’d before you even know what has happened. It is up to you to open up or re-open up those communications channels before it’s too late. Offer to travel to the client’s office — on your dime — to meet with the whole team so you can re-establish key connections. Start requesting that other team members join meetings or calls so that you aren’t at the mercy of a single person. If no amount of overtures on your part work to break down the silo walls, try the last ditch effort of copying other team members on key email correspondence so they are somehow in the loop. Carefully document everything you do and all conversations just in case you’re set up to take the fall at any point.
Every client relationship can be peppered with moments of misunderstandings and disappointments — like any relationship. But without a strategy in place that can help you bring harmony to your client relations, your revenue stream could be negatively impacted by one or more of these bad client types. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to identify and address problems head on because when push comes to shove, you may end up being the one that is most dispensable.
What are some of the bad client types you’ve encountered, and how have you dealt with them?