Difficult Clients

Dealing with Difficult Clients and How to Get Them On Your Side

Kimberly Campbell

Kimberly Campbell

Whether it’s at work or in life, difficult people abound. It’s probably safe to say, there are some people that make you want to walk over Lego bricks barefoot rather than deal with them…did someone just come to mind?

Truth be told, difficult people – and, by extension, difficult clients – are inevitable. From bad communicators, to chronic indecisiveness or just plain nastiness, chances are, you will encounter challenging personalities all through your career. But, knowing what to do and how to communicate can go a long way to forging stronger client relationships and can, in fact, earn you a client for life.

Pick Your Poison

Dealing with Difficult Clients

Difficult clients come in all shapes and sizes. Each one is motivated by different things and each one can have a negative impact on your business. 

Studies suggest that not only are there more problem clients than ever before but, they can have a huge cost to your business. They put stress on your team, require hours and hours of management, hamper workflow, contribute to staff turnover and are more likely to contest invoices, often refusing to pay entirely.

Here are a few personalities you may recognize:

Mr. Uhh-Let-Me-Check

Even though he is your primary contact, he cannot make even the simplest decisions without consulting someone at the office. This guy is a glorified message service leaving your project caught in approvals and in an endless cycle of revisions.

Mr. Awesome

Mr. Awesome is amazing. Mr. Awesome can do his job AND your job. Mr. Awesome can do everyone’s job, but BETTER. Really, just ask him. He is also likely to ask you to move your titles 2-pixels to the left because “It doesn’t look centre to me.”

Mr. Easy-Peasy

Mr. Easy-Peasy proclaims that this is a no-brainer that will be done in no-time. Mr. Easy-Peasy does not speak the truth. He’s not really a bad guy though, he just doesn’t understand the process.

Mr. Keyboard Warrior

Everything is fine and dandy, you guys are in this together and you are delivering work that he LOVES, then a few hours later you get an email that says the opposite. At the first sight of trouble, Mr. Keyboard Warrior will throw you under the bus then bury you in a truckload of bullsh*t for good measure – Sorry bro, did my back hurt your knife?

Mr. Last-Minute.com

When do you need it? Yesterday. Mr. Last-Minute.com as no concept of the space-time continuum. The deadlines are always impossible and the information you need almost always disorganised and incomplete.

Mr. Got-Discount-Or-Not

Invoices beware. Mr. Got-Discount-Or-Not is on the prowl to go through every line item on the page. He will fight you tooth and nail on every dollar and drag the payment process out for as long as possible.

Mr. Shouty McShoutface

Mr. McShoutface is a natural-born screamer. He believes the only way to achieve anything is to scream till he gets his way. There is no reasoning with Mr. Shouty McShoutface. There is only shouting. Stay strong.

Turn The Tides

Clients are rarely difficult for no reason. More often than not, clients get difficult when they feel like they are not being heard or they feel you don’t understand what they want. These general steps will help you respond in professional way, build your clients’ confidence and go a long way to establishing a lasting relationship.


Breathe…and stay calm

While it’s tempting to meet crazy with crazier, take a breath and always moderate your response. Stay calm and keep your responses focused on the problem at hand. You are more likely to get your point across if you can do it calmly and firmly. Your calmness is also likely to calm the whole situation down so you can get back to a productive discussion. It also has the added bonus of making you look cool in the face of adversity.


Your client doesn’t need to speak your language, you need to speak theirs.

Every client will bring with them different levels of experience. Some will have worked on global campaigns; others will be venturing into production for the first time. Whichever the case, you need to build their confidence in you at every step. They might not be using the right jargon or be able to talk about the technical things, but they do know where they need to get to with their project. Listen, really listen. If you can figure out why they are asking for something, you can offer a solution that works for both of you. The faster you can understand their motivations, the sooner you can offer a solution that works. You make your clients look good, they trust you, they come back for more.


Don’t overcommunicate

Sh*t happens. But before you pick up the phone and send your client into a panic, find a few options to solve the problem. If your talent missed their flight, what’s the next step? Figure out the options and how each one impacts the project before you speak to your client. Be honest, be prompt, move forward. If your clients can trust that you will act in their interest and present solutions thoughtfully, they will be less likely to look over your shoulder in the future.


Follow up & summarise all meetings

Difficult client or not, have discussions and milestones in writing. Summarise your meetings with an email of what has been discussed. This keeps everything documented and gives you something to refer to if disputes arise. If you are dealing with a client that is constantly changing their mind or very scattered, use the paper trail to keep things clear and focused. If needed, make sure they acknowledge your emails so there is no room for argument. This step is a little extra effort but for pedantic & disorganised clients, these emails can give them confidence that you are on top of the project and all the moving parts.


It’s not about you.

Say it with me, “It’s not about you.” Yes, you are providing a creative solution to a meet your clients need. No, this is not your creative soap box. Do the best job that you can and bring your creative flair to the table, after all, that is why they hired you in the first place. But remember, you are there to solve THEIR problem. Keep your eye on the prize and help your clients achieve the best outcome for their project.


Trust is earned…and clients can be trained

Your client has come to you because they need to achieve something – whether it’s an interview, a corporate video, an advertising campaign, they all have a message they need to communicate, and they need your help to do it. Remember that they are not obligated to trust you, nor do they know how you work. If you can prove to them that you understand them and that you can be trusted, they are more likely to take your lead and trust your process on the next project.


Debrief & review

It is always good to end a project with a debrief with your team. Find out from your team and crew where their pain points were and discuss the pitfalls (if any) of the project objectively. If there were miscommunications and problems, this is the time to discuss how they happened so you can make sure to avoid them in the future.

Difficult Clients - Bring It On

At the end of the day, clients are just people trying to get their job done. If you can earn their trust and confidence, you will gain a firm advocate for you and your company.  The most difficult clients can become your fiercest supporters – once you win them over.

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