How to Manage Clients When Tensions Are High

Photo: Photo:  jypsygen  License:  Creative Commons

Photo: Photo: jypsygen License: Creative Commons

It's easy to get along with clients when things are going great.

They're paying you on time. They're thrilled with the work you're doing. Everyone is happy, and everyone wins.

But what about when things take a turn for the worse?

What do you do when you and a client don't see eye to eye and they turn against you?

You're supposed to work together to achieve the client's goals, but that's easier said than done when an ally turns into an enemy.

Some friction and disagreement are just part of doing business. With the right approach, you can navigate challenging times and come out with projects well done… and stronger relationships with clients.

Keep reading to find out how.

Communication: Overlook It at Your Own Risk

Video professionals – and almost everyone in the “client business” – struggle with disagreements and unreasonable clients from time to time.

How you handle these interactions has a huge impact on whether projects will succeed or flop. A lot of people don't consider this beforehand. They end up in a tough situation with a client, but by the time they think about how to handle it, they've already said or done something to make the relationship blow up in their face.

Clients hire you to tell visual stories. You aren't a counselor, mediator, or a therapist. But applying the tips below – tips that tap into invaluable communication principles – will help you handle rough patches without all the frustration and stress.

Key Communication Principles to Save Client Relationships

Communication is key for your success. You're already helping clients communicate visually. Now, it's time to help yourself.

Next time you hit a snag during a client project, keep these key communication strategies in mind:

Get Everything in Writing

You probably aren't the only service provider your client is working with.

They're running a business, and so are you. It's easy to forget something – or remember it incorrectly – with so much going on.

Getting things in writing is critical. It only takes a little effort to pull this off, and it makes the workflow easier for both you and your clients. Whenever there's a misunderstanding or disagreement, written records give both parties an invaluable frame of reference to help settle it.

The sooner you start getting things in writing, the better. This begins all the way in the early stages with your project proposal. It continues with a written contract or fee agreement. As the project gets underway, you can save notes and email threads to add to that written record.

This is one of the smartest preventative measures you can take. When there's disagreement about a key element of the project, you can politely refer the client to the appropriate part of your written record. You can even send over a copy of the relevant document if the client lost theirs.

There's no better time to start doing this than now. Keep a paper trail, and you'll avoid the dreaded “he said, she said” scenario where both of you are pounding your fists on your desks, swearing up and down that the other person is wrong.

Tailor Your Communication Style to Suit the Client's

You don't have to be an expert orator or public speaker to be a great video professional…

But it definitely helps to recognize different styles of communication. Recognition is the first step to adapting your speaking style to better suit the client's, which makes it much easier to get the information you need to clear up misunderstandings.

I used to have a boss who loved sending cryptic, stream of consciousness text messages. Every time I read them I was left scratching my head trying to figure out what they meant. It really didn't help when he sent multiple text messages and everything got out of order.

So I did something you can do with your video clients: tailored my communication style to suit the personality I was dealing with. Instead of firing back a rambling text message of my own, I broke down key bits I needed to understand and replied with a numbered list of questions. This made it a lot easier to get the information I wanted.

You'll discover your client's communication style as the project progresses. It's an acquired skill that gets easier with experience. If your client is long-winded, break down the essentials into a numbered list or bullet points and ask them to address each one in turn. If your client is curt, ask open-ended questions to get them to elaborate on exactly what they mean.

When You Can, Justify Your Decisions with Case Studies and Data

What do you do when you find out the client doesn't like your production or post-production work?

You probably get angry first. You spent a lot of time on the project. If they don't trust your output and have a ton of suggested revisions, you might wonder why they even hired you in the first place.

Some clients are much more “hands on” than others. All of them have different tastes. It could be a matter of not liking the look of your video. Or the criticism could stem from a lack of understanding as to why you made certain decisions.

Some video professionals get defensive and angry when their clients don't see eye to eye or trust their vision. But that's not the most productive way to maintain a good relationship. Instead of blowing up, you could send a polite email educating the client why you did the things they didn't like.

When you can, justify your decisions with data or case studies – real results from past projects where you succeeded making similar choices. You might find the criticism vanishes once the client gets a better idea why you handled the project the way you did.

Remember, your highest loyalty is to helping the client achieve their objectives. Link your decisions to those goals whenever you can. Justify and fight hard for important decisions, but pick and choose your battles. You can make a few minor changes to satisfy a picky client… as long as they don't undermine the effectiveness of your work.

Stay Calm and Relaxed

Your emotional state in handling tension with clients has a huge effect on whether things will improve or continue to spiral.

Do you feel the tension in your chest when you're on that phone call? Or blood pounding in your head when a client makes an underhanded comment?

If you let those sensations guide your response, you set yourself up for a world of trouble. Your client is already agitated. The last thing you want to do is get agitated yourself and have things spiral out of control.

It's hard to have an argument with someone who's calmly listening to your objections and trying their best to meet them so both people are happy. 99% of the disagreements you'll encounter aren't about you… even though it can sometimes feel that way. They're about the project.

Keeping that in mind – this is about business – will help you field complaints and stay objective. Do whatever you need to do to stay calm. Clients feed off your energy. If you're relaxed, they're more likely to leave the conversation feeling that your differences can be worked out.

By all means, defend yourself if a client goes too far or insults you personally. But learn to understand the difference between frustration with the project and a personal attack. Sometimes it isn't even about the project at all. It's car troubles, illnesses, or other drama leaking into other aspects of the person's life. Sometimes, people just want to vent.

You Don't Have to Let Disagreement Ruin Profitable Relationships

Disagreements with clients are inevitable.

Feelings get hurt. Opinions differ. And egos get involved if you aren't careful.

But you don't have to let those moments of friction lead to ruined relationships. With the tips above, you'll pull heads and shoulders above your competitors. Instead of escalating the tension in tricky situations, you'll diffuse it, get the project done, and strengthen your client relationships.

What was the stickiest situation you ever found yourself in with a client? How did you handle it? Leave a comment below and let me know!