How to Best Handle Challenging Clients

06/09/2015 04:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2016

Some of the best and worst parts about my job is working with clients. There is nothing more rewarding or challenging than making a client happy. Sometimes, I get really lucky and work with people who are gracious, respectful, and even excited to work with me. Other times, not so much. I have to remember to keep myself cool and handle issues head on so that they don't get better later.

Expectation Vs. Reality

Over the top expectations can be a BIG problem, especially when someone is working with a company for the first time. They might have surfed the internet to get an idea of what to expect or talked to an "expert" friend. Sometimes the initial meeting can feel more like a reality check than anything else, other times just a huge slap in the face. Helping customers to understand your pricing, payment terms, the amount of time involved in a project and how much of their involvement you'll need are vital things to mention in an initial meeting. This is how you avoid miscommunications and set boundaries for your customer.

80/20 Rule

It's a pretty well known idea that 20% of your customer base creates 80% of your business. In context of managing relationships with clients, it is the 20% that you want to focus your energy on. Everything else should just be background noise. Separating those continual clients who respect you and are excited to work with you on a continual basis from the rest of the people you work with is vital in forming marketing strategies and keeping priorities straight.

I read an article about this young woman who had started up a small business, just something for residual income, but enough to keep her busy. She had a customer who would constantly email her asking for information on the products she sold, this quickly turned into asking for discounts, package deals, new product styles or colors. After months of this, the young woman realized that she was doing all this work to make ONE customer happy, but hadn't even made single sale from this person. This customer was probably never going to do anything but waste her time. It's important that we, as business owners, keep our customers (and ourselves) in check.


Sometimes, even when you've done all you can to appease a customer, to set boundaries and to offer realistic expectations, you'll still have a few who seem to make it their life's goal to make you feel like you and your business is inadequate. Those are the times where you have to ask yourself, is this a customer even worth having? Usually the answer will be no.

It's a hard choice to make, and even harder trying to break the news gently to your customer. But when you consider the long-term effect it will have on you, your employees, and your company as a whole, then it is necessary to cut out the negative relationship so that you can focus on building better ones with clients who want to work with you towards a common goal instead of against.