How to deal with those nightmare clients

Sam McKeith

It’s a question every start-up and small business will have to grapple with at some point – how to deal with a nightmare client.

You know the one – frustrating to deal with, hard to please and if you’re not careful a real drag on your bottom line.

Sydney-based business coach and mentor Evan Goodman told ShortPress there was one word to keep in mind when dealing with the “client from hell” – communication.

Goodman – an expert in generating success for SMEs, start-ups and family businesses – said there were a few important things to keep in mind when grappling with troublesome customers and clients.

If the client or customer was “just not delivering” on service or payment then it was probably best to ditch them and save ongoing headaches, Goodman said.

On the other hand, if the cause of the trouble was a dysfunctional relationship, it was usually worth having a go at repairing the damage.

As Goodman put it: “Is it an interpersonal relationship or is it actually a question of quality and delivery?”

If a relationship breakdown was the issue, Goodman urged trying to talk openly with the client or customer in an effort to put things right.

“If the client or supplier is delivering a good service but they are difficult to work with you should … sit down and try to bring out where the issues are,” he said.

“A lot of people blame their customers or blame their suppliers but it can actually be about the communication.”

Goodman said it was also crucial to know when a relationship was unsalvageable, describing it as a complete loss of “trust and mutual respect."

Goodman’s second tip was not to rush to label customers as difficult when the problem could be more nuanced, especially on issues like payment.

“A lot [of companies] would expect people to pay on time and expect suppliers to do things on time but when that doesn’t happen they get very upset and defensive,” he explained.

He said once firms understood a client’s tardiness was not caused by ill will, but because of genuine difficulties, it could be easier to find solutions.

“Once you establish those issues around assumptions, you’ll find that almost all issues can fall away,” Goodman said.

However, Goodman said it was also crucial to know when a relationship was unsalvageable, describing it as a complete loss of “trust and mutual respect."

His advice here was simple – walk away.

“You know it when you’ve talked to the recalcitrant supplier or customer when they have broken the [business] commitment that has been made,” he said.

“If you both enter into an agreement and they break it once, but potentially twice or three times, then you need to realise there’s no mutual respect there, and without mutual respect it won’t work going forward.”

Sam McKeith

Sam McKeith is Sydney-based media professional. He has contributed to many leading publications including The Huffington Post, The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and BRW Magazine. He was previously a senior reporter at the Australian Associated Press where he covered national affairs. 

Image: Cubmundo, Flickr Creative Commons License