In any business at all, clients are key. Clients can also be the hardest part of your job, because they vary so much. Each client is unique and must be treated as such. Event planning as a business is even more sensitive. This is because the entirety of your job relies on consumer satisfaction. The person who coined the saying, “the customer is always right”, must have had event planning at heart.
Even though in everyday life, a client might be an easygoing and rational person, when it comes to handling their event ideas, they might turn out to be entirely different. Some clients may never seem to be able to make up their minds on what concepts they want. Another type of client, is one who is seemly inflexible. This type of client has a particular idea in mind, and might refuse to consider other options. And what about the clients that cut budgets suddenly?
In fact, event management can truly be likened to circling around a minefield, trying to avoid disastrous explosions. How then do you manage your clients and maintain a relationship that is harmonious and beneficial for both parties? First of all, you must be able to identify whether your client is truly difficult, and why.
HOW TO IDENTIFY A DIFFICULT CLIENT.
A client is employing you because they lack the skill set or resources to complete a project themselves. However, the client should have a clear idea of what they’re after. Failing that, they should be eager to allow you help them figure it out. Clients who fail this test have project scopes balloon overnight. And they react with anger and confusion when their idea of what they wanted doesn’t match the Event manager’s blind attempts to give it to them.
A client’s expectations may not be explicitly tied to the project itself; they may expect behavior, time, or discounts for no other reason other than they think they deserve it. Unfortunately, giving these clients what they want only reinforces their belief that you live to work for them. The best way to avoid these clients is for Event managers to be upfront about how they work and how they expect the client to work. The client’s reaction to this news will tell the freelancer a lot.
Disrespect is tied to the client not seeing you as an equal. The best relationships are based around working with a client, not for them. Clients that fail to pay on time, refuse to communicate, or blow off appointments and/or suggestions without justification are clients who lack a professional respect vital for a good working relationship.
Devaluing hard work: Nobody is thrilled to spend money if they don’t have to, but if a client devalues your work and efforts in an attempt to lower their bottom line, it’s a point of concern. The manager-client relationship should be a mutually beneficial one. Clients should feel they are getting a value out of you and you should feel valued by your clients.
Now that we have successfully identified what difficult clients are like, the next step is to understand how to deal with them. The most important thing to bear in mind, is that it is strictly business. This mindset can eliminate any unprofessional steps you might be tempted to take in frustration.
HOW THEN SHOULD YOU HANDLE A DIFFICULT CLIENT?
1. Be Patient:
You must always bear in mind that everyone has their off days. Always be prepared to make excuses for your client. Don’t assume the worst until you fully understand what the client is going through. Be prepared to listen, and to empathize. You should be able to calm an agitated client. This will deepen your relationship with your client and guarantee you better results.
2. Make the Communication Very Clear:
When we encounter a difficult client, it is often due to a preconceived idea of what they expected you to do, without ever communicating those expectations to you. You must ensure that you understand exactly what the client wants you to do before commencing any work. Impress upon your client the importance of a two-way line of communication. You will find that work is much easier when you are both on the same page. An indecisive client can be a plus to you because they allow you to make most of the decisions.
3. Make it Right:
Sometimes our actions are the cause of the existing difficult client. If you mess something up, make it right. Don’t pretend it does not exist and ignore it. Ignoring conflict will not make it go away. Maybe you were having a bad day and you said something wrong? Remember to always be professional. If it will make relations better, then apologize. Remember, the customer is King. Guarantees are worthless if we don’t stand behind them. If you don’t offer a guarantee, consider offering one and make your errors right…you’ll be glad you did.
4. Be Firm about Respect:
Stand your ground, if you did your part and fulfilled your end of the deal. This is not giving you a license to be a jerk, I am saying if you did your part and the client is being unfair or unreasonable, stand your ground and be firm! There may be times to give in, but if you clearly have a client trying to take advantage of your kindness, stand firm, but only if you know you did the right thing. Offer easy remedies. Remember: Not all people want to be made happy.
5. Remain Professional:
Don’t take the anger bait! If you encounter a difficult client who begins the conversation with colorful language, demeaning remarks, and personal attacks, remain professional. Don’t begin to reflect their communication style because it will simply lead to additional conflict in your business relationship. This is easy. Don’t mirror their words and communication styles. Take a breath, walk away, and give yourself time to cool down.
6. Negotiate the Win:
For a conflicting business relationship to experience a positive remedy, there must be a win for both parties. When negotiating with your client, provide breathing room in the points of interest. Remember, if it goes bad, it reflects on you, because your client will tell everyone. Find relevant training on negotiating in your profession. The basics of negotiations are the same, but there may be specific keys to success in your industry.
It really doesn’t matter what line of work you are in, at some point, there will be a business relationship in conflict, a difficult client, or some type of negative situation involving a client. If your number one goal is making money, you may be tempted to write them off and move on. If your goal is relationships before revenue, these situations may be an opportunity to develop a strong, long-term, positive business relationship.