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Saving Face: Dealing with Difficult Clients

Some clients can be more challenging than any project. Holly Youde shares her strategies for dealing with difficult clients in this Pro Landscaper Article.

Dream clients – hopefully we’ve all had our fair share of them, but occasionally a tricky one comes along and there are ways of dealing with them to enable the best outcome for both parties.

If a customer starts to become difficult once you are working on a project, it’s essential to document everything from start to finish. Keep written records of estimates, customer preferences, changes and conversations. Send them to the client for agreement afterwards so you have reference points if an issue does come up. Take regular photographs of the progress of works as you never know when you may need to revert back to these for evidence – particularly anything underground.

Man on phone to client

Communication is also top of the list, respond to emails quickly and make things clear. Even if you don’t have any news or an immediate answer, contact to let them know you have received their email or phone call and will respond by a certain date. Don’t put it off – make it a priority, the customer then knows they are being taken seriously and is likely to be satisfied quicker and will take a step back.

Sometimes a conversation can be the best thing, emails can come across aggressive or defensive even when not intentional. Even better would be a face-to-face conversation – an issue can often be resolved with a quick conversation.

Many disputes we have come across could have simply been avoided with good communication, informed knowledge, professionalism and a well-run site. A disgruntled customer will find absolutely anything to moan about, so do your best to minimise any opportunity for complaint.

written-records

If you feel out of your depth, get someone independent involved or contact your trade association if you are a member. APL and BALI both have dispute resolution services, use them before things get too messy. You can also explain these services in your contract, so your customer is aware of them too.

Try not to be stubborn, be reasonable and think about your reputation. If you compromise and give a little, chances are they will sing your praises and recommend you. Try not to take any criticism personally – put yourself in their shoes before you react. Present a solution to the issue, one you are confident with as the work is under your guarantee. Then, set a date to remediate the works and stick to it.

One of the most important things is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Make sure all your staff know the issue that occurred and why. Change your contract if you need to futureproof and make sure you protect yourself. Use the feedback to make improvements and push forward. Act professionally, rationally and proportionately. You may feel like dumping a wagon load of manure on their driveway, but try your best to refrain and you will hopefully come to an agreeable solution before it gets out of control!

Signing-contractRemember there is a difference between a demanding client and a difficult client. A demanding client wants things done a certain way but is willing to pay for it; a difficult client is unhappy no matter what you do, usually stemming from a lack of knowledge. We have no problem working with ‘demanding’ clients because they challenge you to be better. On the other hand, if a client talks down to the team, complains on a regular basis or routinely takes advantage of your team, the relationship may not be worth nurturing. It’s okay to filter these clients out and if you get the gut feeling before signing contracts with a customer, avoid if you can. Not everyone out there is reasonable.

Remember, the customer has to give you the chance to put things right so to protect yourself make sure you communicate, document and photograph everything. Take advice if you need to, prioritise the complaint, learn from the outcome and prevent it from occurring again.

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