Dealing with Difficult Clients

Dec 6, 2007 - 1:14 pm 2 by
Filed Under SES Chicago 2007

Moderated by Jeff Rohrs, who states this this will hopefully be an Oprah-like therapy session (laughs).

First speaker is Michael Murray from Fathom SEO. Difficult clients - they want solutions to their problems and assurance. He suggests to avoid problems in the first place by framing expectations and conveying a consistent message. They use as many possible methods to amplify the points they are trying to cover. Being attentive to regular calls and conferences, even if the client is less-so. Keep thorough notes on clients. The requirements: signed agreements with specific terms – commitment time period specific, control methodologies in place, and collaboration channels are clearly identified. For example, they have to have full and immediate access to analytics in order to participate in the measurements.

Objections: what is the problem? What caused the problems? What are the possible solutions? What is the best solution? They ask these questions internally prior to the meeting/phone calls with the client in order to be well prepared. Handling concerns – be proactive about direct communications – no voice mail messages, etc. It is better to know we’re going to respond and then call within one business day. The more people we bring into meetings, the more they know we are dedicating a lot of resources towards solving their problems. A “show of force” like this can go a long way in making the client content. Be consistent and rapid in the communication.

Jeff asks the panelists about the idea of managing expectations. What are good ways to do this once the process has begun? Simon states that the initial thing as Michael said is the full requirements gathering clearly states the expectations. Kendall thinks it is a progression. Yes the first thing is a thorough scope. Typically, unless the person is already a friend, you have to get to know each other. As you do get to know each other, you have plenty of opportunities to more clearly define and continually revisit the expectations of the projects as well as the quality expected and the level of service desired. Michael insists on 6 weekly calls form the get-go, in order to get them in the habit of meeting with them. The first six calls really tell the client how serious they are. They are adamant about scheduling that immediately. Simon adds that you are maybe regularly dealing with someone in the middle level of management and used to managing to their expectations, and then discover a new level of expectations in a meeting with the C Suite.

Next up is Simon Heseltine from Red Boots Consulting. he will talk about the six types of difficult clients: 1. The “I want it yesterday client.” 2. “The Denier.” These people do not implement recommendations, and yet are taking times to second guess everything. They are sometimes only partially implementing. 3. The “sneak attacker / Invisible man.” They disappear for some time and then all of a sudden contact you and turn into the I want it yesterday client. 4. “The scope creeper.” Before you know it the one site audit turns into 3 site audits and a white paper on Bolivian dental services. 5. “The spy” they are trying to train their in-house staff when they are working with you. This is fine if it is a formal training situation, but at some point they may dump you. 6. The lack of internal process client. He describes a situation where IT teams sometimes simply copy stuff onto other pages, etc, making it difficult to understand strange changes manifesting themselves in the analytics. This leads to the discovery of recommendations that were either improperly implemented or reused erroneously.

Be proactive in dealing with difficult clients. Set expectations up front – use the contact for scope issues. Provide regular updates on a mutually agreed schedule. Identify the issues ASAP and then resolve them. If all else fails, you can fire them. You are in the business sot make money and to help clients. If you have someone that is an absolute pain, then you have to possible reevaluate the need for the relationship. He then announces that Red Boots will be rebranding in January as Serengeti.

Jeff asks about the differences in communications styles based on generations or other differences in demographics between the client’s makeup and the internal team make up (paraphrased). Kendall suggests asking up front to see how they like to operate/communicate, and fit into that. Jeff wonders if that should be documented specifically, and Kendall doesn’t necessarily do this every time. They do not want the client to think they are being so diligent about writing every single thing down and referencing it formally in email etc…this is not their style.

Kendall Allen from Incognito Digital. (She has no PowerPoint) They are a small agency and they want to focus on deep relationships with a few clients. Some of the things they think about from a positive front. They help clients with branding and conversions, which can be challenging since it is a dual metrics campaign. They are focused on developing long term engagements and long term planning, so they want to be in that process with the client along the way. It can be challenging with some of the types of clients that Simon talked about.

It is a constant progression/journey, not a one time event of setting expectations up front. They are focused on helping their clients with preparing reports to present internally. Then there is the component of good and bad ideas…some times the client’s ideas need to be carefully re-crafted. The idea of building a relationship with clients that would last even over multiple agencies is something she considers. If you think of that possibility instead of short term, you will likely have a better relationship.

***Note this is “live” unedited blog coverage of SES Chicago 2007. Some typos, grammatical errors, or incomplete thoughts may exist.


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