Dealing with Difficult Clients:Eliminating the “Rocky” from the Relationship(Part IV of a four-part series on Getting and Keeping Clients)
There are two types of independent practitioners: those who deal with difficult clients, and those who will deal with difficult clients some time in the future. So if you haven’t struggled with this issue yet, chances are you will at some point in your career. But never fear; we’ve given you 8 quick pointers on dealing with your difficult clients in order to eliminate the “rocky” from the relationship.
1. Turn the mirror on yourself.Before you take any steps to resolve the issue, you must take a long, hard look at yourself to see if you ’re partially responsible for these difficulties. Have you miscommunicated, or maybe under-communicated? Perhaps you didn’t properly define expectations at the start of your relationship, and it’s come back to bite you.Or maybe some of your client’s gripes have merit.Whatever the problem, if you’re contributing to it, now is the time to learn from your mistakes.Pointing the finger at your client may be the easy way out, but it’s not necessarily the way to more profitable business.
2. Cover your legal bases.Before you even encounter a difficult client, you need to make sure you ’re properly documenting your hours, your correspondence and your work. Consider the legal aspects of of how and when to let go of a client, you always want to leave any business situation better than you found it, even if the client didn’t appreciate what you do. While no one wants to anticipate clients taking legal action against them, it’s in your best interests to make sure you’re covered just in case. It would be wise to consult with a lawyer to know exactly what steps you need to take in order to protect yourself.
3. Get more clients.The worst-case scenario is when your difficult client is one of your only clients. Don’t be held hostage by a limited client base. Diversification is good advice no matter the setting and by getting more clients at different settings you can secure the stability of your business and not feel the crunch of one leaves your services. Get more clients and you won’t be bound to your difficult client by a financial ball and chain.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate.Unfortunately, accountants are not stereotypically known as effective communicators. Evaluate your interactions to see if there might be ways to improve this important skill. Some clients are difficult because they are high-maintenance and controlling. And effective communication in the form information is one way to appease some of these high-maintenance and controlling clients. Include regular reports and email updates with your services. Just keep in mind, how you would like to have important information communicated to you could also be how your clients would want it reported to them. Keep them in the loop.
5. Grin and bear it.Okay, so this is one option you have that we don ’t necessarily recommend.Sometimes the difficulty in a client relationship is just plain, old bad chemistry.Perhaps this is the rare personality type you struggle with, and tolerating the difficulty is a lesson you feel needs to be learned.It’s an interesting situation, and you must weigh the cost of letting go the “unbearable” client verses the money this client brings in and the headache he/she causes you. Just don’t tolerate a grin-and-bear-it client if he/she promises to drain excess time, energy, and money from your business.
6. Renegotiate your terms.Often the way to resolve difficulty is to acknowledge it and renegotiate terms with your client. This sometimes means you must return to square one and define expectations once again. Make sure you both feel satisfied with those terms; while “the customer is always right” might be a tried and true business maxim, it doesn’t always make for a happy business owner. Explain why you have the expectations you do and why your boundaries might ultimately benefit your client.
7. Teach your client.Sometimes a client is difficult because he/she is not getting you the information you need in the proper format. Or perhaps your client doesn’t recognize the value of the information you provide. Resolving these concerns and issues may require a few meetings where you teach the client. This may require you to compose a lesson that explains your reports, or lesson that steps them through the process of providing you with proper information. The nice thing about presentations like these is that you can recycle them with other clients, because often people procrastinate or avoid important tasks simply because they don’t know how to perform the tasks properly. A little knowledge just may be the key in putting both you and your client at ease.
8. Fire the client.When all else fails it ’s important for you to recognize that you’re the boss here; if this difficult client is exhausting your time and energy it may be time to fire that difficult client. In last week’s article, “Defining Expectations with Your Client: Starting off on the Right Foot,” the first step was to be selective. We suggested you ask yourself the following questions when picking up new clients:
- Is your gut saying “no way”? [Note: This should trump everything else. If your gut says no, we suggest you listen.]
- Does the Potential Client balk at your rates?
- Is the Potential Client trying to work a deal, getting more from you than you typically charge?
- Does the Potential Client want to exchange services rather than pay your fees?
- Does the Potential Client appear needy or exceptionally high maintenance?
- Does the Potential Client want to defer payment?
- Is the Potential Client a “closet tax expert” who wants to do a lot of the work him/herself with you working as a tax consultant?
- Is the Potential Client on “the rebound,” looking for a new accountant or tax preparer following a failed relationship with another one?
Unfortunately we sometimes discover difficult clients only after they join our roster.Now that your client has proven him/herself difficult, ask yourself these questions again to see if cutting your losses and firing the client is the next best step.
You’re not beholden to difficult clients. This is your business and you determine your terms and choose who you will or won’t work with. Don’t loose sleep over a difficult client-relationship. Take steps now to resolve the problem and move forward.
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