WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE: Dealing with clients, complaints and boundaries

WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE: Dealing with clients, complaints and boundaries

Difficult, turbulent and uncooperative clients can sometimes seem ten a penny, and they make life very difficult within working hours and often outside them too. Carl Meredith, Managing Director of MyJobQuote, speaks to PHPI about how to deal with difficult clients.

  1. The first tip we have is to start off on the right foot. If a tradesperson allows a client to have an unrealistic expectation, it will soon start to become hard to bear. You know you can’t deliver the project to the budget or timescale they expect but, as it starts to become clear to them too, they are bound to be unhappy and seem demanding.
  2. You are the expert, but they are not – so make sure to set a realistic standard before there are any signatures on any dotted lines. While it might win you a contract to allow a client to think otherwise, it won’t do you any favours in the long run and will cause you a lot of stress – or worse.
  3. As with any business, using the same language is also one key way to make sure everyone is on the same page. Be very clear with what you can and can’t achieve, the timescales and costs so far as you are able. As well as opening up a simple and easily understood level of communication from the word go, it’s important to keep those avenues open throughout the entire project. While it can be challenging when you are busy and stressed, a high maintenance customer will only become increasingly needy if they feel that they are being ignored, overlooked or kept in the dark. Instead, meet fire with fire, and ensure you provide information before they even have to ask. This will help them to feel respected, as well as informed.
  4. It can be really tough as a tradesperson to set these boundaries for a client. Not only do you want to keep everyone happy, the buck often stops with you. Without a management or official price list to hide behind, the client knows that it’s a question of their demand vs. your supply and is likely to be more prepared to haggle. While a little negotiation is understandable, never feel pressured to accept a fee that leaves you at a loss, or with little left to cover your labour. If you are a skilled worker putting the time in to a quality job, you need to ensure you are receiving a fair price for your labour; allowing a client to barter you down too much will lead to resentments, a lack of motivation and a poor working relationship.
  5. Another struggle that can lead to difficult relationships is over-committing, accepting work when you are at (or already beyond) full capacity. Because of the nature of trade work, it’s easy to offer to do jobs out of usual working hours, and the 9-5 doesn’t often apply. Working round the clock can make it difficult to draw a line on how much work is too much, and this can lead to burn out very quickly. It is impossible to deliver good quality work when you have no time to rest, let alone the impact it will have on your own health and relationships. While it might be good for the bank balance in the first instance, it will quickly become a huge strain and likely result in long term client losses.
  6. In the worst case scenario, if a client were to complain, it can be difficult for a tradesperson to manage and handle the situation with a cool head. It is more likely to be perceived as a personal insult, due to the direct nature of the work and working relationship. If you can acknowledge and admit fault, ensuring a swift and convenient rectification of the problem is the best route. If, however, you don’t believe there was any fault, it is far more complicated. Under these circumstances, it often helps to seek third party advice in order to reach a conclusion that will satisfy everybody as far as is possible, be that a legal aid, a fellow trading or regulatory body or even just a friend or family member who can give you some good advice from an outsider’s perspective.

Overall, the most important thing is making sure you are honest with your client and yourself about what is feasible. Remember your own limitations, and try to be upfront as much as you can throughout the whole process. Attitude is equally as important as aptitude; if you can greet a difficult client with a smile, be patient and level-headed, and keep the communication lines open, you will generally find that even the most troublesome clients can become your biggest advocates.

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