Clients who ignore you: how to handle?

In a series of posts, called readers choice, I write on whatever topics people submit. This week’s reader’s choice post: Handling clients who ignore your process.

How do you think that a client should be managed if they just do not want to understand the process or how things are being build? How should you react if a client always asks to shorten timings and they do not trust the people that are setting up the schedule just because they are not aware of the production process and are not willing to learn and understand?

There are only three answers.

  1. Your process sucks.  Maybe they have good reasons for ignoring your process. It’s possible they see its flaws or it’s too complex for what they need. This might not be true, but it’s your job to consider the possibility they’re right, even if they’re only 10% or 15% right. One trick is to anticipate the likely points of tension during a project before it starts, and discuss them with your client before they happen. Then when they occur, you’ve preloaded their expectations for how to handle.
  2. You need to stand firm and, with patience and empathy, explain it better. You might be right, but if they don’t understand why, it doesn’t matter. You can’t expect people to pay extra money for what they don’t understand. The skills of teaching and persuasion are unlikely to come with whatever domain expertise you have, so go work on those. Or find another consultant who is better and involve them (watch and learn). The last option is to share the  tradeoffs and let them decide: “yes, we can get it done tomorrow but we’ll have to cut one of these three features” or “yes, we can get it all done tomorrow, but the quality of each feature will drop”.
  3. Find new clients. There are some clients not worth having. If you find one, your goal is not to do business with them again. If they refuse to respect your expertise and don’t trust you, a good working relationship is impossible (If your boss doesn’t understand this situation, as in never willing to get involved and help, start looking for a new job).  The occasional big fish who is difficult is hard to avoid, but generally there’s little reason for a good firm that does good work to endure insane clients.

7 Responses to “Clients who ignore you: how to handle?”

  1. Jérôme Radix

    Talking about software development, analogies could help : compare a software development to a house building.

    Telling the client that the development of some functionalities has taken days of work like a bricklayer do his job in many days, when you have built the walls, it’s difficult to rearrange the house or rooms without an extra cost. Thus, changing software code takes also some extra cost.

  2. Dilys

    Thanks Scott! Love your response to my question and had a good laugh.
    Actually, we / the client decided to go for solution number 3. Which is good and bad in a way.

    @ Jérome: I like your association. This is exactely the same example I always use to teach non-technical people. :-) Planning = architect, technical people are bricklayers, plumbers…, creatives are the painters and interiour designers. In 99% this really helps people to understand, I failt with 1%.

  3. Frederic Van Camp

    From my experience it is absolutely crucial to walk your client through the process before the project starts and to be transparent and open throughout the project. Even if it is an existing client, every project is different and setting expectations early is key.

    Another important aspect with many clients is to put them in a position to take certain decisions themselves. This means clearly explaining the options to them including pros and cons. This way they will most likely follow your preferred route (but thinking it was their decision).

    On every project there is only three variables that you can manipulate in order to meet a deadline, timing, budget (more/less resources), and quality – other than scope of course. You cannot bend all of these at once, it’s always a trade off between these three and you have to decide which variable is most flexible.

    Lastly, what usually works very well is to phase delivery into stages. There is always key elements that are in the spotlight, but other elements behind the scenes that can follow. Again, you would need to explain exactly the impact of such an approach including attached risks and limitations.

    With all these, it is very important to involve your client during the decision making. It will help them understand and ultimately they will have to support the decision, because they have been part of it. Your job has only been to point out the options and to give advice.

    I hope this helps.

  4. Dilys

    Thanks Frederic ;-)

    I totally agree with what you say. But, unfortunately, this is an ideal world. A really interesting observation I made, is, that this is common and well accepted in the online world. If you start looking at the off-line world the picture is completely different. Even if you can apply online processes to offline media (print, TV etc) the people and their mindset is different. It’s interesting to see, that people working with new media are different in their behaviour. It fits to the “new” world of working and new ways of approaching challenges. The offline world seems to stick to the old way of working and blames you if it’s expensive, takes too long etc. They are interested in different approaches and seem to understand, but if it comes to realising the new process, they immediately turn around.



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