Mission impossible: 9 tips for dealing with demanding clients

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Sometimes your client wants the impossible: they want to pay you less; they want everything delivered yesterday; they want to do a deal outside the ordinary… Here are some essential tips from Cindy Tonkin to help you out when your clients make impossible demands:

1. Make sure you are clear

Firstly, make sure you are clear: It can’t be done that quickly, at that price, the deal isn’t within guidelines. Say it out loud. Not with a lukewarm ‘yes’, but a cold hard ‘no’.

2. Is it impossible or a new product?

And before we go any further, be certain that what they want really is impossible. All progress is indebted to the unreasonable person: what they want could in fact be your new product.

3. Write it down

But if not, to be doubly clear, write it down. If you have a procedure, make a client version of it, so they can read it in black and white: what’s possible and what’s not.

4. Try a different channel

Next option: try changing sensory channels. Some people believe things they see, others what they hear, what they read or what they experience. You’ve tried sound and the written word. So draw a diagram. Walk them through it.

5. Try a different person

If that doesn’t work, get someone else to explain. This may work because the other person changes ‘channel’ (from words to pictures, as I just suggested). Or it could be their ‘convincer’.

6. They may have to meet it more than once

Research on convincers (how people decide) shows that we all need to hear, see, experience or read things a certain number of times or over a period before we believe it is true – until we are convinced. Every person has a different channel and a different number. I had a client once who needed to hear something for three months to make a decision. She talked about working with me for three months before making the appointment. She followed up on my quote three months later.

My dad’s different: he needs to experience something once before deciding. He proposed to my mother on their first date. He bought houses he saw once. He took a holiday on the spur of the moment. So your client may just need to hear, see, read or experience why what they are asking is impossible a few more times to know it’s not possible. If your convincer is short, and your client’s convincer is long, then maybe it’s just about a little patience.

7. Last resort: refer them to a colleague

There is also the nuclear option: don’t provide to them. Refer their business to a colleague.

8. Check out your processes

Finally, if your clients consistently ask for the impossible, check how you are marketing to attract this kind of request. Look at your customer information, website, customer welcome packs, everything you give to clients. Make them so clear that you’ll cut out some of the impossibles.

A chain of pharmacies found the most impossible customers were those waiting to pick up prescriptions. They created a poster showing the 26 steps that the pharmacist went through to ensure a prescription didn’t accidentally kill someone. Customer impossibility evaporated.

9. Look after yourself

In the end, the more fit, healthy and happy you are, the more easily you can convert impossible clients into happy, referring clients. So look after you!

Cindy Tonkin is the author of ‘The Australian Consultant’s Guide – setting up your consultancy business profitably and painlessly’ and ‘Consulting Mastery: being good is not enough’.