Talent Development Centre

5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Clients


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Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Branch Manager at Eagle

We talk a lot about how independent Information Technology contractors need to act when on assignment and ensure that they deliver value when on the client site.  But what happens when you accept a six month contract offer only to find that the client representative you answer to on a daily basis is not exactly the easiest person to work with?  As an independent, this can be particularly tricky. You may feel that you don’t have access to the same programs and processes that an employee might have in the same situation, leaving you trapped in an uncomfortable environment.  Quitting and throwing away the contract means financial loss and potentially a hit to your reputation in the local market.   So what other options do you have?  The following tips can go a long way to giving you a chance to turn what might be a less than perfect scenario into something that is manageable.

#1 – LISTEN

When describing difficult clients, we often describe a person who is a poor listener, obnoxious and who ignores what is being said and “talks over” what you are saying.  Well if that is the case, make sure you are not falling into the same trap.  Listening carefully to what your client says will give you all kinds of information as to what they are unhappy about or what is driving their behaviour.   And that information is gold!

#2 – EMPATHIZE

Work hard at putting yourself in your customer’s shoes.  Mirror or echo back their source of frustration to show you “get” what’s bugging them.  Maybe they don’t have all the information or maybe they are just being obstinate, but demonstrating that you are on their side and are willing to work with them towards a successful conclusion goes a long way to establishing basic rapport.   If the client gets personal or makes generalized statements (“nothing’s working”), let them know you understand that they are not happy but move the discussion back to the topic of deliverables.  Ask them for specifics and see if you can identify the real issue, then discuss the possible solution and work towards agreement on next steps.

#3 – BE PATIENT

Sometimes it just takes time.  Some clients are slow to warm to the presence of someone Frustrated independent contractornew on their team, especially a contractor who is onsite for a relatively short period of time.  They may see you as a threat to their authority or as someone who might even have more knowledge or skill in a particular area.  Or maybe you just represent change and that can be upsetting to some.   Blend in, don’t be too pushy.  Demonstrate that you are working toward success just as they are and that you have a role to play in that success.  Share your knowledge freely and let them see that you have lots of value to offer.   Give them a chance to see that you are not a threat but rather a resource hired to complete a specific piece of work.

#4 – BE RESOURCEFUL

As an independent consultant, you still have access to resources to help you figure out how to work with a difficult client.  Talk to your staffing agent if you are starting to feel like your relationship with the client is going poorly.  Not only are they a good sounding board for ideas, but they may also be able to offer you direct insight on the individual or environment you are dealing with.  That insight may prove to be invaluable.  If practical, your agent can help to arrange a conversation involving the three parties where any issues or concerns are addressed directly.  Having a “neutral” party involved in these discussions can help to push through the emotional aspects of the issues to focus on the business impacts which can then help get things back on track.  Your agent can also help to determine whether the issue should be escalated within the client organization.  Bullying or harassment are wrong, no matter if it is perpetrated on an employee or on a contractor.

#5 – BE PRUDENT

Sometimes, things can’t be saved.  No matter how much you’ve tried to make it work and for whatever reason, you have a client that is determined to make your life miserable.  It is likely time to determine an exit strategy.  Again, speak with your agent and let them know where you are at.  If you have been in regular communication with them or had them get directly involved with trying to resolve prior issues, it won’t catch them off guard and they should be able to help you to figure out a way to leave with the least amount of impact possible.   A good agent will understand that you’ve made every effort and they will also appreciate the fact that you’ve let them know of a potential problem within their client’s organization which could continue to give them and their contractors headaches.

Challenging clients are unavoidable for any business, including independent contractors. How you deal with these clients is what will set you apart from your competition and maintain, if not improve, your reputation in the market.  Have you had to deal with a difficult client?  How did you manage it?  What were the results?  Share your stories in the comments below.

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