A reader e-mails in, “FS, I’ve just had one of the worst freaking days of the year today at work. I’ve been busting my butt for this one client for the past 6 months, and when it was time to do their semi-annual review, we actually got worse in their ranking. To add insult to injury, they also provided some negative feedback, and I’ve known this client for so long. I thought we had a good relationship. I’m so mad because I’ve spent double the effort on them this year, and went backwards. They aren’t even a big client! What would you do? Thanks, Frustrated.”
Hi “Frustrated”, I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I’ve been there before, many of times, and all I’ve wanted to do was give up and yell. What’s important is to NOT act emotionally. Go for a walk, grab a drink, and take some deep breaths before you e-mail/call the client or discuss the issue with your manager. Too many times, people write things they don’t mean in the heat of the moment and end up regretting their actions. You must go about this in a rationale manner.
5 Suggestions For Handling A Difficult Client:
1) Thank the client for their candid feedback, and try and understand their perspective. Ask the client what your competitors are doing differently, and what you can do to improve. Your competitors might be smaller competitors who treat this “small client,” like one of your “big clients.” Or your competitors may really be stepping up their service because they’re afraid of survival, and need to do whatever it takes with even the small clients. Once you get a barometer for your competition, make a mental note and decide how to execute.
2) Provide your client with a list of things you have done for them during the voting time period. Perhaps it was a project earlier in the vote they may not have remembered. Ask the client to evaluate whether the things you did were helpful, and how you can improve if what you did were not. Many times the client is inundated with so many things that they take for granted what you’ve done for them in the past or simply do not remember! Make sure you remind them, especially during this process. In fact, after this first hiccup, make sure you remind them prior to the review.
3) After getting a better understanding of where they are coming from, start providing your perspective. You may be understaffed, or the client may not be considered one of the priorities in your firms rankings. Whatever it is, provide some background and make them understand your side of the story. For example, the client may be at the bottom tier and you aren’t given the proper resources to service this client as a result. Make the organization the “bad cop”, but mention to them you will do all you can to service them with the resources you are provided. More often than not, the client will appreciate your feedback. Make sure you are not trying to make an excuse for your poor results. It’s imperative to just lay out the facts. They might not be aware they aren’t the biggest client in the world!
4) After both sides get a better understanding of each other, you have to decide whether it’s worthwhile to pursue what they’ve asked. Obviously, in the ideal world, you’d be #1 with everybody. However, you can’t be all things to all people. The time you spend with this small client, may be time you don’t spend with a big client. If your big client’s relationships start suffering, you are definitely doing the wrong thing and will be penalized eventually. If you are resource constraint, like many are during this downturn due to layoffs, you must focus on the top 20-30% of your clients who provide the majority of your revenue. It’s the “80/20” rule, and it’s held true by that rough estimate for the longest of time.
5) Finally, you must manage your manager’s expectations because at the end of the day, results affect your pay and potential promotion. Are you getting overly upset because your manager actually doesn’t care so much about this small account? Any rationale manager should understand that it’s more important you do well with your big accounts, and take what you can get for the small accounts, especially if you are resource constrained. And if she doesn’t, it is entirely up to you to properly educate the manager about the revenue upside and the cost associated with service i.e. the time spent, and the time not spent on other more important accounts.
I have a feeling you are somewhat of a perfectionist who wants to be the best at anything you attempt. The problem with perfectionism is that it’s wrought with disappointment. We end up taking things too personally. We may even start getting that annoying back pain I wrote about in a previous post, “The Book That Changed My Life & Made Me Rich Again,” because we are so stressed! Maintain a rationale approach and have a candid conversation with both your client and managers to find a reasonable resolution. Best of luck!
Start your own business: If you feel you’re not getting paid what you’re worth and want to boost your income, start your own business online on the side! It used to cost a fortune and a lot of employees to start your business. Now you can start it for next to nothing with a hosting company like Bluehost for under $4/month and they’ll give you a free domain for a year to boot.
Brand yourself online, connect with like-minded people, find new consulting gigs, and potentially make a good amount of income online one day by selling your product or recommending other great products. Not a day goes by where I’m not thankful for starting Financial Samurai in 2009.
Updated for 2017 and beyond.