August 13, 2017
The Samurai Guide To Managing Difficult Clients (and actually having a life)

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You are smart. You are creative. You are committed. And you have an awesome grasp of social media. Of course you do, you are a mover and a shaker in a hip, fast-moving, millennial-driven PR and Marketing firm. You are also going slightly insane.

Why? Because your clients routinely make insane demands on you, expecting miracles with very little notice. Part of you actually enjoys this phenomenon, given your fascination for big challenges and the ever-present potential to become heroic. Another part of you does not enjoy this phenomenon, often feeling like the deck is stacked against you. And guess what? It is -- not just because your client (older, higher paid, more experienced) is constantly disregarding the fact that you have a life outside the workplace, but because this kind of client-driven behavior, unfortunately, has become the norm these days.

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Is there as way out of this madness? Yes there is. And it has everything to do with how you manage your clients. True, there is no formula or algorithm for how to do this, but it can be done. Yes, it can -- all modulated through your own particular style and your client's personality.

For starters, here are ten simple guidelines. Pick one and begin.

TEN SIMPLE WAYS TO BETTER MANAGE YOUR CLIENTS

1. Help your client translate their over-the-top request into a question that begins with the words "How can we?" The effort to frame a pressing challenge in the form of a "How can we?" question will open up the conversation, reveal hidden challenges for the two of you consider, and cut to the chase in an elegant, time-efficient way.

2. Get your client to describe their vision of success. The clearer your clients are about what their "hoped for outcomes" are, the more you will understand what's really required to get results.

3. Establish clear agreements and protocols at the beginning of the relationship. Let your clients know what you can do and what you can't do -- what you will do and what you won't. There will likely be a little voice in your head wondering if this will "fly" with the client. Relax. It will. In fact your client will respect you more for clarifying your boundaries.

4. When asked for a super-quick turnaround of a project, let your client know what you are able to deliver and what you are not able to deliver in the time frame requested. Let he/she know what the trade-offs are. Once your client becomes knowledgeable about the downsides of such a quick turnaround, he/she will be more likely to extend the deadline.

5. Speak the truth. If you know a particular request is impossible to fulfill in the time allotted, say so -- and offer an alternative fall back date. Even an extra day or two on a project can make all the difference in the world.

6. Be sure to ask "by when" your client needs the deliverable. Poke at the so-called deadline. Often, a client's request "by yesterday" means "a week from now," or "by Thursday", not "tomorrow." Don't assume your client's anxiety or lack of planning means you have to work all weekend.

7. Ask your client for the names and contact numbers of key people on their team (or in their company) -- resources you can contact on a moment's notice, especially when your client is unavailable.

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8. Practice "reflective listening" -- sometimes known as "checking for understanding." This is simple to do. For example, if your client makes a request of you at 4:59 pm on Friday (or any time, for that matter), restate your understanding of the request, i.e. "If I understand you correctly, you are asking my team and I to launch a new viral video for your company no later than tomorrow morning -- one that will get 10 million views by Monday. Is that accurate?" If it is (and you agree), at least you know what your mission is. If it's not (or gives your client pause), the two of you will be able to make some last-minute adjustments to your marching orders.

9. Realize that pushing back and saying "no" is not the same thing as being "negative." Your goal is to create a collaborative relationship, not an abusive one. You want to be a partner, not a slave -- a consultant/advisor, not a whipping boy or girl.

10. Feel free to give your clients feedback, not just head nods. Unfortunately, very few people know how to give feedback in a meaningful, effective, non-threatening way. And so they say nothing. Not a good idea. One feedback format you might consider using is called LCS. It takes only a few minutes, sometimes less. Here's how it works.

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Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at August 13, 2017 08:58 AM

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