Everyone knows we should all keep a calm head in business, but that’s often easier said than done. Many situations can lead to annoyance – often innocent ones caused by cultural differences, miscommunications, misunderstandings and imagined tones.
So when Tim came along and offered a post on how to be annoyed with your clients, I wasn’t sure what to do – until I read it. Enjoy, and feel free to drop your favorite annoyance tips in the comment section!
If you’ve never been annoyed with your clients, then either you don’t have any yet or you possess a degree of luck that could win you the lottery a thousand times over.
Having disagreements with clients can be a little unnerving, but the situation is commonplace in business. Over the years, I’ve found there is a right and wrong way to be annoyed with clients – and if handled the right way, disagreements help forge a stronger, better relationship with your clients.
There are two key elements to handling disagreements successfully: moderation and tact – and there are two reasons why this is so.
1. Think then act
Before I started my own business – and I was considerably wetter behind the ears than I am now – I had the privilege of working for an incredibly mild–tempered boss. We worked on a project for a particularly antagonistic individual.
My boss received a number of heated and abusive telephone calls, but he never raised his voice or reciprocated the abuse. If he got a shirty email, he would leave it until the next day and then compose a polite, balanced reply.
He told me that people struggle to keep up their scorn when someone is being nice to them. He also said that if you wait before replying to abusive emails, you never say anything in the heat of the moment.
How right he was.
I’ve come close to returning evil for evil over email so many times – but I didn’t. And often, after the client has calmed down, he eventually expresses gratitude that you maintained your professional decorum through the project.
Thus the business relationship has been maintained – and been made stronger.
2. Protect your reputation
Sometimes your working relationship with a client comes to an end. For whatever reason. Does this mean you gain the satisfaction of telling them what’s really been on your mind?
Try to leave the client with an impression of, ‘Well, it didn’t work out but [s]he’s a nice person’. Remember, even if you never do business with the client again, that person might have friends, family and business associates who might.
Protect your reputatation. Just one person talking ill of your services is the bad apple that could spoil the rest of the bunch.
So how can you express your annoyance in moderation? It really depends on the circumstances. I believe you can group them via the following three scenarios:
A) Late payment
The unpleasant matter of the invoice going unpaid is probably the most likely reason you’ll get contention between you and the client.
I find clients tend to be one extreme or the other: either they pay pretty much straight away or they’ll leave it until you’ve chased it up two or three times. And if clients are tardy with payment, a rude email expressing your annoyance won’t help.
On the contrary, it’ll only further delay payment.
I get round this by always keeping some collateral on my side should clients show signs of defaulting payment. For example, my standard contract states that until I receive full payment, I can take any site that relates to overdue invoices offline. I’ve only ever had to exercise this right once but it worked a treat.
You don’t have to take such extreme measures. Find a way that helps you keep a little collateral on your side so that you always have a way to protect yourself should the invoice go unpaid.
B) Questioning your pricing structure/time spent
‘It shouldn’t cost that much’ or, ‘You surely didn’t spend that much time on it’ are pretty insulting if you’re honest to a fault (like most of us are). It’s tantamount to calling you a fraud.
So how do you deal with comments like that using tact and moderation? Normally the culprit is just ignorance – clients don’t really think you’re a charlatan. Respond with a detailed breakdown of the individual tasks that went into the job and show them how you arrived at your final numbers.
If clients still take issue with you, you can always say that you’re unable to do the job any cheaper without compromising on quality.
C) Changing their mind
When a client changes their mind partway through a project, it can be quite frustrating. There exists a rare breed of client that offers to pay for your extra time, but most won’t.
What should you do when a client changes his mind? Fall back on your contract – and you need a good one. For example, I cap the number of amends and the amount of time that can be spent on amends in my contract. If the work exceeds this marginally, I don’t say anything – I don’t believe it’s worth rocking the boat for a couple of minutes or dollars.
However, if it’s a major change beyond the original scope of the project, then it needs to be addressed.
Politely refer the client to your contract and state that the project doesn’t accurately represent the original quote. You’ll need to revise the price. If the client contests a price revision, simply ask them, ‘Would you work for free?’ That’s effectively what you’d be doing.
Sometimes all it takes is helping clients to see it from your side.
Separate It Out
Despite what they may have said or done to you, remember you should never, ever, ever get personal or abusive with clients. Even if you no longer want them as a client. Remember that if you part company and leave them with a sour taste in their mouth, they could damage your reputation.
You can – and at times you should – be annoyed with clients. The key to success is going about handling the situation in the right way. Eating a good wedge of humble pie might taste bitter at first, but trust me – it’ll pay off.