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How To Handle Awkward Client Conversations

Ever had unreasonable demands placed on you by a client? Or undersold yourself because you failed to fully articulate your value? The business-client relationship can be a beautiful or tenuous thing. It’s important to know how to handle awkward conversations so you can negotiate this territory with ease, and always have an advantage.

Here are some typical awkward client conversations you might have and how to deal with them!

01 – You missed a deadline and have to explain the delay

If you have a great client relationship, conversations like this become marginally easier. That said, try not to abuse the privilege and use your “get out of jail free” card too many times in a row. If possible, try and have this conversation in person (or if that’s not possible, over the phone). Don’t email them!

Marketing guru Seth Godin claims “no communication tarnishes your perception in the client's eyes. So long as the communication is strong, the actual dates rarely matter”.

  • Try to establish communication channels as early as possible – for example, are you going to have catchups via Google Hangouts? Or weekly Skype check-ins?
  • Encourage client collaboration and involvement from the get-go. You want your client to be actively engaged in the process, so they see your world a bit clearer. That way if things get out of hand, chances are they will understand.

02 – You’re changing your rates

This is a delicate subject that needs to be handled with care. You’ll want to explain the reasons for the change, show your value over competitors and offer your support throughout the process.

  • Give your clients a heads up as soon as you can (easy if your communication channels are rock-solid after following Point 01 above!)
  • Where possible, meet them in person! Your clients are much more likely to be responsive this way. If you can’t get a hold of them be sure to call them up, offering the opportunity to meet in person if they need to.

Find out more about how to handle this situation in our blog post: You’ve Decided To Raise Your Rates - Now How Do You Tell Your Clients?

03 – You need to tell them to pay up – or else

Chasing yet another unpaid invoice? If you’ve been nice about it before, it’s entirely possible that you’re being taken for granted. But it doesn’t have to be all negative. Short of threatening legal action, positive reinforcement may be the easier (and cheaper) way to go.

  • Can you offer incentives that reward earlier/timely payment?

04 – You want to introduce new ways of working but they’re resisting.

Maybe they’re stuck in their ways, apprehensive of change or just want to see their own ideas go forward. Either way, it’s time for an intervention. Here are some things you can do:

  • Help your clients see the benefits of working differently. What will they gain by adopting a new approach? For example, introducing a rapid, iterative way of working will help the project progress faster, provide ample opportunity for feedback from customers, and more than likely keep costs down.
  • Talk about the “bottlenecks” and come up with solutions together (that way they’ll be more receptive if they need they had anything to do with it!)
  • Introduce new tools that will help you collaborate more closely with each other. WorkflowMax is kitted out with a great range of online great collaboration tools but we integrate with several third party apps as well.

05 – It’s not working out and you’re ready to let them go

Sometimes you just need to accept the inevitable. You might have tried everything you could to salvage the relationship, and you’re ready to pull the plug. But whatever you do – try not to let the relationship end badly.

  • Offer support. For instance, introduce them to other agencies or industry contacts better suited to their needs
  • Prepare your exit. Don’t get caught off-guard. Go in knowing how your strategy (ideally as quickly and to-the-point as possible) and whatever they might say, don’t deviate from the plan!
  • Get the timing right. Calling them up on the last day of the year to end things is just bad form
  • Always be professional, tactful and as courteous as possible, no matter how they take the news.
  • Analyse the relationship so you can learn from it next time!

With this list you need never fear dealing with POTENTIALLY awkward client conversation again! Just remember to try and add a personal touch to the conversation where possible and don’t make rash decisions!

Our #HowToHandle series deals with tough workplace issues, providing handy tips on how to manage them, deflect potential situations, and always come away with the best case for your business. If you found this article useful, share the love (use the hashtag!) or let us know your thoughts in the comments below. And keep an eye out for Part 3!

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