As a contractor, you're bound to come across frustrating clients from time to time.
These are the people who try to change your scope of work midstream, argue over prices, or leave negative reviews for seemingly no reason.
Dealing with difficult clients can be a daunting task, but your job as the owner is to remain calm and patient with every client you work with.
That's because your clients play a vital role in your business success. And other people are watching; be it employees or other potential clients. And they will take their cues from you and how you handle yourself.
Good client relationships can lead to more referrals, which can mean more growth opportunities. So here are some strategies to successfully manage your relationship with challenging clients while keeping your business running smoothly.
The best way to deal with difficult clients and avoid many conflicts is to set expectations at the beginning of the relationship.
A lot of times, clients walk all over you or have unreasonable expectations because you haven't set proper boundaries right from the start.
As the business owner, you should have a clear process in place for:
how your business runs
how appointments should look
And how each phase of a project should go
And you can avoid a lot of conflict between your clients and your business by discussing expectations early. Ensuring everybody is on the same page will help prevent any potential problems.
It's also important to ensure that every client gets the same exact experience and consistent results.
So, if you have a team of employees, you may need to start documenting those processes and expectations by creating SOPs (standard operating procedures).
Setting expectations also means having a contract for the work you do before getting started on the job.
It doesn't matter if you're in the cleaning industry, painting service, or plumbing trade — all professions need to have some sort of client agreement that outlines the details of the relationship, the scope of work, and the price. So that both you and your client can refer back to it if a problem or a question comes up.
And being clear on how you're going to communicate with your clients is also a part of setting expectations and boundaries.
Of course, you want to be responsive and available to people when they need you — but that doesn't mean you will be accessible 24/7.
Clients should NOT be texting you at 11 o'clock at night or calling your home phone on the weekends.
If you want to maintain your sanity and not hit burnout status (like so many business owners!), you need to learn how to recognize when to take a break. You need those down times where you're not being bombarded with requests and questions that - let's be honest - can usually wait.
When you first start working with a client or contacting a lead, you need to have a plan for how and when you will communicate with them. Decide beforehand how much of your time and attention they will get during the course of the project.
And then make sure to respect your boundaries because the minute you break your own rule and respond to their text at night or on the weekend, all bets are off! They now own your time, and they will assume they can get away with anything.
So you have to stand firm when you set those guidelines and processes, and they must stay the same for every client.
If a conflict does arise, discuss it with the client immediately.
As women, we tend to avoid conflicts — but ignoring the problem will inevitably make it worse. You have to deal with problems head-on. So, when something comes such as:
A client trying to make changes to the project, and you know that's going to cost more or take more time
Someone being difficult with scheduling, and it's affecting other clients' work
A client being rude to your staff…
The minute you recognize the issue, step up and take control! Have those tough conversations right away.
Be the authority in this situation.
You want to deal with it directly and quickly, so there's no issue of wondering later on if you should have addressed it earlier — or waiting until the next time something happens that causes the same problem again. So solve it right then and there, before things get out of hand.
Another action you can take in dealing with these tricky clients is to ask questions.
More often than not, in these situations, people are frustrated because something isn't clear. There are questions about:
The work that needs to be done
Generally miscommunications, or a lack of communication altogether, is causing the problem — and that could be either the client's fault or yours.
People want to feel heard and understood, so if you sense that a client is frustrated about something, start being curious and ask questions like:
Is there some detail I haven't explained well enough?
Is there something I can do to clear things up?
How is the experience you're receiving right now not meeting your expectations?
What can I do to resolve this and make you a happy camper?
A lot of times, just asking questions diffuses the situation.
It also shows you care; that it's important to you that they are happy with your work when the job ends.
Showing that you're interested in the client being satisfied goes a long way. Sometimes, it might have been some simple miscommunication that can quickly be cleared up.
After you've talked with the client, take action. Do what you can to find a good balance between what will satisfy your client and what's best for your company.
In these situations, prioritizing follow-up will be necessary to ensure the relationship turns around and everyone walks away happy.
You can't let the ball drop on this one!
In some cases, the best way to deal with difficult clients is to fire them. This can be a difficult decision to make, so ask yourself these following questions when you're dealing with these client issues:
Where do I draw the line?
At what point is this client not worth the headache?
When do I cut my losses and move on?
Because it is OK to fire clients.
Often, even though you want to provide the best service possible — there are clients that will just never be satisfied.
Maybe they're making unreasonable demands or getting into conflicts with you or your employees again and again, or they might be a bad fit altogether.
Or, partway through the project, you realize you're not going to be able to deliver on your promises because of unforeseen circumstances.
Ultimately, it's YOUR business, your reputation, and your sanity.
You should be comfortable with who you work with. Sometimes we struggle saying no and ending bad relationships, but it's your responsibility not to let impossible clients walk all over you.
So if it comes down to it, listen to your gut and back out of the relationship.
But it's crucial to know what will occur once that decision is made. Your contract is going to be very important in determining what happens with the deposit, the materials, and any remaining balance, among other things.
It's crucial that this part of your contract is worded properly and is legally binding. So, get a lawyer who can help you put a contract together that will protect you in these situations.
You might be feeling agitated when dealing with difficult clients, but what you need to remember is to set expectations clearly and discuss conflicts right away. And It's better to keep things calm and maintain a positive relationship than try to deal with the problem once emotions are running high.
So when a client is being difficult or brings up an issue that is really bothering them, or they want something changed with the project, stay amicable and listen carefully to their concerns.
Be genuinely interested in what they want and offer solutions that speak to their needs. And be patient. Some of your clients are totally new to hiring a contractor or home service provider. They might never have hired a plumber, gardener, cleaner, etc. before!
Or if they have hired a contractor in the past, you're probably giving a much different experience than they're used to in these male-dominated industries…
So they may not know what is and isn't customary for a contractor to do. Or they might think something is required of you that really isn't.
If all else fails, and you try your best to accommodate them and have a positive approach to the situation, you can fire them because you are the boss, and you get to decide who you want to work with.
I hope that gives you a fresh perspective as you deal with some of these challenging situations.
And I know that sometimes emotional support is needed while dealing with difficult clients…so why not join my community of over 700 women business owners in the trades? You will get support, amazing advice, engaging content, and positive vibes! We’re all hanging out over on Facebook and you can join the group by clicking HERE!