This week I had 3 different clients struggle with how to handle a difficult customer. Though the stories, circumstances and details were all different, the theme was the same. In each case my client’s feathers were ruffled as a result of their client crossing a boundary. The interesting part, however, was that after digging a bit deeper in to each case, I discovered the boundary that had been crossed was one that had never been clearly communicated in the first place.
Enter contracts, rules & boundaries, engagement letters, MOU’s etc. There is a reason that since the beginning of time professional relationships have been governed by these kinds of documents. Why? So that everyone knows, understands, and has been clearly communicated with about what each persons roles, expectations, deliverables and consequences are, should they not adhere to the agreement. But aside that, it makes it so that when someone steps outside of the agreement, it is not a personal attack, when you call them out on it.
For example. One of the stories this week involved and overbearing and in fact a client who was turning in to downright bully. She would be calling my client all night long (well after hours), on the weekend, and not just that, she would call/email/text incessantly, over and over again, which was causing my client to hit the ultimate PANIC button. In addition, this client would be brash, rude and raise her voice on the phone – would ask for something to be done, then decide she didn’t want it – leaving my client with unpaid invoices and conflict filled conversations.
When I asked my client if it had always been this way with her client – she said no, in the beginning the client had been enjoyable to work with, but as time had gone on she had increased her demand and eventually started this kind of insane behaviour. What kind of contract or agreement did you have her sign – I innocently asked, instinctively knowing the answer. And you guessed it – there was no contract in place.
This was so easily avoidable – with the communication and accompanying document outlining the rules and boundaries around engaging with my client and her services – we would have never gotten here. The good news is that together we’re putting this imperative piece in place within her business model so that moving forward, this will never happen again.
But let this be a lesson to all in ensuring that no matter how much you like a person, your professional relationships should never get personal. The way to avoid this, is have the difficult conversations up front. Make sure that everyone’s role within the professional relationship is defined, and the rules and boundaries are discussed and there is a plan of action for moving away from the professional relationship at any time. From there, put it all in writing and sign off on it. I promise that by doing this you will avoid all kinds of pain in the long run.
All the best!