Dealing with difficult clients

Apr 3, 2008 | Strategy

I often encourage accountants to identify and ditch your duff D-list clients.

That’s fine if you’re in a position of authority in your practice – a sole practitioner or a partner for example. But what if you don’t have that level of authority? Then it becomes a question of how can you best deal with difficult clients?

So here’s my top 5 tips drawn from one of my business coaching modules for accountants and tax advisers. You’ll appreciate that many of the techniques can apply equally when you’re faced with difficult colleagues, partners and staff! If you have tips and ideas of your own please add them by way of comments to this posting.

1 – Separate the person from the problem
If you need to confront the client, be clear that it’s their behaviour rather than them that is the problem.

2 – Affirm rather than accuse
Be clear that you focus on how you feel as a result of their behaviour. “When you do that, I feel….” rather than “You make me feel ….”

3 – Promise yourself a reward
When you can’t avoid a meeting with a dreaded difficult client, promise yourself a reward if you manage to handle things well. Could be chocolate, a quick look at a favourite website, an extra treat on your way home or anything else that you can arrange as a reward for yourself. Or team up with a colleague and reward each other.

4 – Keep your cool
Don’t make matters worse by getting into a heated argument, shouting or going off in a huff.

5 – Keep notes
Ideally make your notes during the meeting or phone call but certainly as soon as you can afterwards. You’ll want to be absolutely clear about what transpired and any advice you gave. The clients from hell are the ones most likely to complain and to cause grief down the line. The more contemporaneous records you have the less mud can stick.

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