In my 12 years plus professional experience I have worked as a consultant on both sides of the fence i.e. for the client and as a vendor. So this has provided me with a lot of opportunity to deal with difficult clients (as well as being a difficult client!).
There are many examples of what might be considered a difficult client including – refusal to pay for services rendered (certainly sometimes with good reason), frequently changing the objectives of the project, not signing off on documents to move a project forward to the stage, avoiding responsibility for their component of the project (e.g., not making important and necessary decisions), pressing for solutions before analysis is completed, etc. These are just a few examples – no doubt there are countless others that you will have encountered and experienced.
Here are a few brief tips (from personal experiences) to help you avoid having to deal with a difficult client.
Make sure you have a clear project charter or business case or PID and scope statement for all projects that have been developed with and signed off on by the appropriate level contact at the client.
Tip 2: Ensure Project Ownership is in Place on the Client Side
Have the client assign a project manager from their side to be involved in the project from start to finish.
Tip 3: Have Regular Status Reporting
Be sure to develop a written status report on a regular basis and share that information with the client.
Tip 4: Keep the Client Informed at All Times
Have regular client meetings – whether by phone or via conference call – to update the client and get answers to questions, resolve issues, etc.
Tip 5: Provide Transparent Issue Management & Resolution
Don’t hide anything from the client – bring up issues immediately along with a proposal for solving the issue. You don’t like to kept in the dark about something good or bad, so why should your client?
Tip 6: Implement & Adhere to a Change Management Process
Develop and stick to a change management process or plan. If changes come up – even if they are minor – stick to the processes for managing change requests. There should be no exceptions here! Make sure everyone on the team (including the client) knows the process and follows it.
Tip 7: Develop & Sign Off a Contract, or Agreement with The Client
Develop a detailed contract or agreement for the project that specifically includes what the consultant (you!) and the client expect from each other and how you are going to work together.
These tips will help you to keep a project moving in the right direction and avoid a client turning into a difficult one. However, once you have a difficult client (it will happen), use the following steps as a guideline:
Step 1: Set-up a Meeting
Set up a face-to-face meeting with the client to address their issues and concerns.
Step 2: Develop a Plan
Develop a plan, with the client, on how to get back on track.
Step 3: Refer Back to Documentation
When necessary, refer back to the documentation (such as status reports, write-ups of meetings and/or conference calls, etc) and your contact with the client (see tips above on how to avoid having a client become a difficult one in the first place).
Step 4: Compromise & Keep Your Cool
Most important – keep your cool with the client. Come to a compromise on what will work for both you and the client. Don’t look to just “win.” There is no real winning here if you can’t remedy the situation and come to agreement.
Tell me about your experiences. What are some of your stories? How have you managed difficult clients? How have you managed a relationship so the issue of a client turning difficult does not arise?