Three Things To Keep In Mind When Dealing With A Challenging Client

Three Things To Keep In Mind When Dealing With A Challenging Client

by | Mar 13, 2019

In business, there are certain truths that transcend industry, geography, and size. One such truth is the fact that clients can sometimes be challenging.

There are many reasons for this, of course. Sometimes, it’s self-inflicted, such as when sales over promises regarding capabilities. Other times, it comes down to unavoidable personality clashes.

Regardless of the cause, it’s the leader of the organization who must step in when clients are challenging, to clear the air, smooth over tensions, and get things back on track.

However, as with most things in life, this is easier said than done. Emotions quickly take hold, and before you know it, you can find yourself in an even more contentious relationship if you’re not careful.

At BodeTree, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with great clients who share our passion for helping small businesses succeed. Still, every so often we’ll encounter an individual or team that just can’t be pleased.

When this happens, we’ve learned to lean on a tried-and-true three-step process that brings resolution to even the most challenging of client relationships.

First and foremost, take a look at yourself and accept responsibility

Business leaders don’t like to hear this, but the truth is that if a client is upset, it’s probably your organization’s fault.

Most clients, you see, are just like us. They don’t want to deal with any unnecessary drama or headaches. Put another way; they’re just as unlikely to stir up unfounded problems as you are.

Most leaders are quick to defend their teams, and even quicker to defend their own actions. I’ve learned that such a knee-jerk response often causes a situation to go from bad to worse.

Instead of rushing to the defense of your organization, try listening to your client’s concerns. You may be surprised to find that their grievances have merit.

I learned this the hard way, early on at BodeTree. When we first dipped our toe into the institutional sales market, we tended to agree to whatever the client asked for, regardless of whether or not we could deliver on it.

This behavior didn’t come from a place of ill-intent. Instead, it demonstrated an overly-optimistic view of our development capabilities and capacity. As we moved from contract to deployment with our early clients, the gap between their expectations and our capabilities grew.

I was less engaged in the sales process than I should have been and naturally assumed that it was the clients who had unrealistic expectations. Once I engaged with them, however, I saw the truth: we had oversold our capabilities.

I decided that the only path forward was to accept responsibility for the situation and work to make things right with the clients.

In a few cases, it meant reshuffling development priorities to deliver on our promises. Other times, it meant reworking pricing so that the deal made sense.

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson. When problems arose, the first place we needed to look was in the mirror.

Recognize that perception is reality

Of course, for every situation in which there is a clear fault on one side or the other, there are a dozen other instances where the issue comes down to a matter of miscommunication.

In these situations, it’s tempting to try and “win” the argument by proving that the client misunderstood a given situation. However, I’ve learned that such an attempt is foolish.

As it’s been said, perception is reality. It doesn’t matter if it’s wrong; if a client perceives something to be true in his or her mind, it might as well be true. Any attempts to prove otherwise will simply cause them to dig their heels in deeper.


Instead of arguing, try to start from their position. This empathetic approach softens the tone of the conversation which often causes the other side to be more open-minded. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their position. It simply means that you have to recognize that their position is valid, at least in their mind. When you start with empathy, conflicts tend to de-escalate rather quickly.

Know when to walk away

Unfortunately, there are some instances where clients simply cannot be pleased. When you take all of the necessary steps but still can’t seem to find a resolution to the problem at hand, it might be time to fire the client.

Never be afraid to walk away from a bad situation, whether it’s with a client, deal or employee. It might be painful in the short-term, but when all is said and done, you won’t regret making a move.  

Life is too short to work with people you don’t trust, respect, and admire. Good leaders know a lost cause when they see one and aren’t afraid to walk away. Doing so saves immeasurable time, energy, and heartache.

In business, the only thing you can truly control is your temperament and reaction. When you treat clients with respect and honesty, there are few obstacles that cannot be overcome. However, leaders must also learn to recognize a lost cause when they see one and be brave enough to walk away.

Remember, clients may come and go, but the reputation you build for yourself and your organization stays forever.

Chris Myers

CEO | BodeTree

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