How To Deal With Clients From Hell
Clients from hell happen to everyone, it’s inevitable. But the real question is how to deal with clients from hell in a way that’s professional and gets the situation under control.
Many times, we worry that if we share these stories it’ll make us look bad. Or we’re not super proud of how we handled the situation so we aren’t really keen on telling anyone else about what happened.
The fact of the matter is this: if you work with clients, you ARE going to have a client from hell. No matter who it is, or the reason why this is just one of those things that is unavoidable when you run a client-based business.
Even though we know it happens to everyone, there are some things we can do to handle these situations or even spot some red flags that tip us off that someone may be veering towards “client from hell” territory.
So you’ve got a client situation that’s seriously out of hand and you’re ready to completely snap. Or maybe you’re huddled in the corner, rocking back and forth, trying to figure out how to stop things from getting any worse.
Here’s what you need to do:
#1. Remain Calm
While it may feel good to freak out and get all the stress out of your body, we all know that it doesn’t actually accomplish anything.
Yes, staying calm is MUCH easier said than done.
When things get tough, it’s really easy to fall into the trap of playing the blame game or for you to start saying things that you’ll wish you could take back later on. Sure, you might feel better temporarily but that feeling will be fleeting.
Staying calm is difficult when you’re dealing with a client who’s irrational, wrong or just plain unreasonable. Fact is, you still need to remain professional.
This is where “taking the high road” has never been more important.
No matter how bad it gets, never EVER give them any ammunition to say that you weren’t professional.
Now, I’m not saying I’ve never lost my cool. (I totally have.)In the long run, those moments reflected poorly on me, not the client. I just didn’t feel good about how I handled the situation.
If you feel like you really need to get things off your chest, our go-to is to type it all out in a Google document and let our fury fly. Then delete it.
#2. Be Willing to Walk Away and Protect Your Boundaries
When dealing with clients from hell, you don’t need to take abuse, but you do need to remain professional.
This can be hard because from a young age most of us are told not to be quitters. Knowing when to walk away is not the same as quitting though. It’s a business skill that you must master as a professional service provider.
When these situations arise, keep in mind that you aren’t your client’s employee and you making the decision to continue to work with them is a choice. If working with them is more of a headache than anything else, it may be time to end the relationship.
You have to figure out your non-negotiables and what it is that you’re willing to work through. Then you have to stick to it.
For instance, if any client treats any of the team here at Small Business Boss rudely or uses totally inappropriate language, that’s immediate grounds for walking away from the engagement.
If you decide to walk away, you need to be firm and kind but make it clear it’s not up for discussion. This may include refunding the client for any uncompleted portions of the project in a prompt manner and cutting off all ties.
In some rare cases, you may decide to refund the client for the entire project at a loss, just to keep them pacified and have them out of your hair for good. (And trust me, this is worth it. The energy of fighting with a client isn’t worth the stress in my mind.)
#3. Figure Out How to Prevent This From Happening Again
This one can be really tough but it HAS to be done. There’s always something we can do as a service provider to help safeguard from these situations.
Things like process improvements can go a long way to ensure you don’t end up with repeat issues. Maybe there was something in your process that resulted in a breakdown that caused your client to freak out.
Maybe your communication isn’t as clear as it could be and you could be more proactive so that clients do wonder what’s going on and start to nitpick at the work being done.
It simply could be that you need stronger boundaries. If you’re constantly jumping every time the client asks, that can create a dynamic where they expect you to do that all the time. Even just saying a firm “no, we can’t do that for you” can go a long way towards establishing the boundaries of the relationship.
One step we always take after dealing with clients from hell is to update our contracts and proposals to prevent that same situation we just dealt with from happening again.
The key here is that you understand your own role in this and don’t just assume it was all your client’s fault.
Admitting that you played a part in where things went wrong and taking steps to improve for the future can go a long way to not ending up in that same situation again.
If you currently have a client from hell, decide how you’re going to turn the situation around or exit the engagement.
If you don’t currently have any difficult clients, now is a great time to reflect on past situations to see where you can improve.
Make a list of processes that you can update to help keep future projects free from hellish clients.