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How to deal with difficult clients in consulting

How to deal with difficult clients consulting – 7 Actionable ways!

Key Takeaways
  • Dealing with clients with changing behavior is challenging, as per 54% of chief operation officers in consulting.
  • Lack of good communication, trust issues, unrealistic expectations, and casual attributes are major red flags for a client.
  • Understanding the client's psychology, facing difficult conversations, and offering customized details of the best solutions are effective ways to deal with difficult clients.

According to Deltek’s research, around 54% of COOs in consulting experience a challenge in changing client behavior.

This is not the challenge alone; 58% of American clients have said they would switch to other companies due to poor customer experience. 

For that matter, consultants work 50 to 80 hours per week to cover the demands of their job role.  

In such a scenario, if you learn how to deal with difficult clients, then giving better client satisfaction would be an easy task. 

But, before learning the best ways of dealing with consulting clients, learn to identify them.  

And here are the red flags to notice. 

Red flags for consultants to identify challenging clients 

Difficult clients will trouble you as they may lack clear goals, have poor understanding, and set unrealistic expectations like over-delivering.

Here’s what difficult clients mostly do…

Questions every decision   

If your client doesn’t trust your process and questions every move you make, that can be a red flag in the long run.  

Tip to overcome: You must provide clear solutions, be transparent, and discuss all the aspects beforehand. 

Lack of clear communication   

Your clients may be unresponsive or provide inconsistent responses when you are out in some doubt.  

This may result in delays and misunderstandings in the deliverables.  

Tip to overcome: It is critical to establish clear lines of communication regarding what you can serve and what they should expect from the start.  

Late arrivals or no arrivals in meetings   

If your client is not prioritizing your time, they are somewhere taking your efforts casually. 

Clients with such attitudes waste more of your time in the coming future.  

Tip to overcome: You must focus on setting up the meetings at their convenience and urge them to take the meeting more sincerely. 

Constant changes/updates   

While in the industry, you may face clients who may not adhere to the plan or make changes after deliverables. 

And such changes, if asked constantly, can result in scope creep and delays.    

Tip to overcome: Define the project to clients in detail and have the necessary discussion before the deal. Plus, mention in your contracts regarding the additional charges for unexpected changes. 

Unrealistic expectations   

You may come across clients who push deadlines or have unrealistic expectations like unrealistic timelines, guaranteed results, full control of each functioning, etc., which can lead to burnout and lower-quality work.  

Tip to overcome: Learn about their set expectations from the start and communicate any potential challenges or delays clearly and timely.

Conflict with values 

The difference in ideologies might result in suboptimal or poor results.

For instance, your clients may disregard your recommendations or advice. Moreover, asked to implement an ideal that doesn’t align well with their goals.

Tip to overcome: Establish yourself as an expert and present the reason behind your recommendations while remaining open to feedback and dialogue.  

Micromanagement   

Clients may micromanage every subject, which can be aggravating and time-consuming.   

Tip to overcome: Establishing clear boundaries from the beginning of your services is essential while being responsive and communicative.  

Now, considering these most common red flags, here are the actionable tips to overcome your challenges in consulting clients.

Tried and tested – 7 effective ways to manage difficult clients for consultants.  

Like above, there can be varied situations where you get to face some difficult clients. 

In the worst scenario, you’ll leave that client. However, losing the client shouldn’t be a regular option.  

Therefore, you must know what you should do to avoid such situations. Here are the actionable tips to implement! 

1. Set a clear outline  

If you decide beforehand what you will do the next day, isn’t it easy to begin with your schedule? 

The same goes for your consulting business.  

So, you must prepare what you will bring to the table for the client; it will be easy for you to deal with the client effectively!

So, you must:  

  • Frame an outline 

Firstly, you can set a clear outline for the project from the beginning to overshadow the difficulty you face.  

This will help avoid any misunderstanding, present the best solution and let everyone be on the same page.

The project outline should include all relevant details, such as the scope of work, timelines, and any special requirements.  

  • Address client’s doubts/problems 

Before beginning the project, ensure the client understands and agrees to the outline. 

Plus, you should address all the concerns that the client raises.  

  • Understand the psychology 

Difficult clients frequently express frustration or anxiety and may be resistant to change.  

If you understand their mindset, you can approach the situation with empathy and work to find a solution that addresses their concerns. 

For example, assume you’re a consultant working with a difficult client who keeps changing their mind about what they want.  

In this case, you could create an outline that includes consulting service details, such as the description of services offered to the client, the number of problems you will be solving, and the final deliverables. 

Along with all expertise and skill set, you need to take support of emotional intelligence to take your clients into confidence.

2. Pay close attention  

If someone pays attention to your concerns or needs, that makes you feel listened to and more valuable.

Do the same while dealing with difficult clients.  

This can help you understand their point of view and build trust with them, resulting in a more successful project outcome.  

  • Active listening  

Well, you need to pay attention to what the client says and ask clarifying questions. This would ensure that you fully understand their concerns.  

Not interrupting the client and allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings is critical.  

  • Building trust  

Customers naturally become skeptical of your abilities when they are unhappy or frustrated.

It is critical to be transparent about your process and keep the client updated every step of the way to build trust.

  • Offer a satisfactory solution  

This involves finding a solution that benefits both you and the client.  

For example, assume you’re a digital marketing consultant dealing with a client who is dissatisfied with your current services.  

Instead of getting defensive, step back and accept the blame. Now, actively listen to the client’s concerns. 

Ensure your clients feel heard to drive their best interest in your services.

You could ask, “What specifically do you dislike about the strategy” or “What changes would you like to see?

This allows you to better understand what the client is looking for and work to address their concerns. 

3. Implement a tailored client model  

When dealing with a difficult client, you can develop a tailored client model by considering their specific needs and concerns to improve.

  • Reset agendas to re-enroll  

Take the time to discuss their concerns with the client and actively listen to their perspective.  

Reset the rules with the client and re-enroll them to accept the new guidelines.  

Make agreements with them and persuade them to keep their promises, words, and actions. 

You can adjust your approach to better meet their needs once you clearly understand their needs and concerns. 

For example, you are a SaaS consultant working with a client who is unhappy with the progress.  

In this case, you could reset the agenda by scheduling a meeting with the client to discuss their concerns.  

You could ask open-ended questions during the meeting to better understand their point of view, such as: “What specific concerns do you have about the progress?“, “How do you feel about our communication so far?” and many more. 

4. Smart document management 

Managing documents is a process full of hassle!  

When dealing with difficult clients, document management can be a helpful tool in ensuring clarity and accountability throughout the project.

Plus, keeping a record of your past communication and creating a list of requirements would help immensely.

  • Make a list of requirements  

Preparing a list of clients’ needs and goals can help clarify and avoid misunderstandings.  

This list should be reviewed and agreed upon by both the consultant and the client at the beginning of the project, and it should be updated regularly. 

For example, suppose you are a social media marketing consultant with a client demanding changes in many areas in your tailored strategic plan.

You can list the client’s requirements, such as the platforms they want to prefer, changes they would like to suggest, any new competitors they have in mind, and more.

  • Record communication/interaction 

It will favor in consultant’s interests and provide evidence in case a dispute arises.

Keep copies of emails, notes from phone conversations or meetings, and any other relevant documentation.

Adopting customer relationship management software can be a business booster and saver for you.

Manage your consulting clients better!

Manage your consulting clients better!

Respond immediately, record communication, manage client's details and workflow processes with Salesmate.

Explore Consulting CRM

5. Remain calm in a critical situation and always be professional 

Some clients can be problematic, but staying calm and professional throughout the interaction can help better handle the situation. So,

  • Watch your tone  

Being aware of your tone of voice when communicating with a client is crucial. For example, avoid using an argumentative or sarcastic tone even if you are frustrated or annoyed. 

  • Avoid getting defensive  

Avoid becoming defensive if a client expresses frustration or dissatisfaction with your work.

Instead, pay attention to your client’s feelings, note their concerns, and try to understand their point of view.

  • Focus on the solution  

Instead of dwelling on a particular situation, find a solution satisfying the client. Brainstorm potential solutions with the client and work together to find a solution.  

  • Present real image 

Tell the clients what they don’t want to hear. Be raw about what might be problematic in their demand. 

For example, Let’s say you’re a sales coach that trains B2B sales teams, and the client is asking for more favors for very little payment.  

So, instead of reacting defensively or dismissively. Acknowledge their concerns, offer little benefits, and show results.

In addition, express if they want such significant results, the current deal doesn’t cover those values, and they need to pay additionally.

6. Meet expectations and build better client relationship

You can avoid misunderstandings and frustration by setting clear expectations in front of your clients and keeping your promises. 

  • Provide what the client needs 

Focus on giving the client what they require. Take the time to understand their needs, priorities and collaborate to create a plan that meets their expectations.

For example, suppose you own a digital marketing agency, and your client is unhappy with the past quarter’s marketing results and asking for a refund.

In this case, offer free work, like a new strategy based on their latest needs and priorities.

7. Walk away from a difficult client  

Despite our best efforts, dealing with a difficult client can sometimes be exhausting.  

In the worst cases, it may be necessary to walk away from the client to avoid;

  • Avoid negative impact on business 

Suppose a difficult client is causing significant disruptions or delays or consuming an excessive amount of your time and resources.

In that case, it may be necessary to part ways to avoid negative consequences for your business.  

This may include lost revenue, reputational harm, and strained stakeholder or client relationships.

  • Protect your well-being  

If the situation is causing you significant anxiety, frustration, or distress, you may want to leave to protect your well-being and mental health. 

For example, assume you are a digital marketing consultant with a client constantly changing their requirements and making unreasonable demands.  

In this case, walking away from the customer might be necessary to protect your well-being and avoid negative consequences for your business.  

Conclusion

Dealing with difficult clients is unavoidable in consulting!

However, at least you should try to acknowledge their concerns to best deal with them (either face to face, virtual, or via telephonic communications).

Following the above practices can get over the complex systems, build trust, improve conversation, and ultimately deliver better results.

Also, unhappy customers can be a bane to your business, and you will face difficulty getting new clients.

So, accept responsibility for dealing with and serving your customers in the best way possible.

Moreover, having a one-stop solution like CRM for consulting firms can help streamline your communication and business effectively.

Sonali Negi

Sonali is a writer born out of her utmost passion for writing. She is working with a passionate team of content creators at Salesmate. She enjoys learning about new ideas in marketing and sales. She is an optimistic girl and endeavors to bring the best out of every situation. In her free time, she loves to introspect and observe people.

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