My Client is a Nightmare: How to Navigate a Difficult Client Relationship

Your client can barely talk to you without a snide comment, you live in fear of making contact with them and your sleep is severely disrupted every night because you can’t stop thinking about the situation. One thing I can confidently say is that we have all been there either directly from our experience or assisting a colleague with this issue. It is not a fun place to be regardless of how you got there, either as a result of the choices you made or your turn at the can’t please everyone wheel. While we would all choose to avoid it sometimes things just happen, so here is some advice on how you can try and come out on the other side in one piece.

I like to think there are different levels of a not so great client relationship, one, two and OH NO 3! For level one this one is fairly manageable and should be handled discreetly, but easily. Try addressing this directly with your client by discussing the expectations your client has of you and your company. Many times this is where the main issue and disconnect occur. Often times this can be resolved by changing the current way you are working with them or adjusting what they should be expecting from your company. Once everyone is back on the same page everything else will start falling into place and you are able to move forward.

Level two is where you have addressed the expectations, changed the way you are working with them, but still the client is not happy. This is where you need to bring in a third person to consult. This can be a co-worker, boss, or colleague, but it is amazing what a fresh eye and ear on the situation can do. I have sat in on calls with people that have been having these exact issues and as someone who is not directly involved in the event I can offer a different perspective on how to approach the client. The most common thing I have come across is that the communication is being broken down and both parties are no longer listening to what each is saying. A fresh voice and a slightly different approach to the same conclusion often can things back on track. Sometimes we forget that while we have done things the same way (and it has worked), we need to try it a different way to please our clients. I have often said, “I haven’t done this before and I don’t recommend going this way, but we can absolutely try it.” Disclaimer added and we can all move on…hopefully.

Well number two didn’t work either and you are at your wits end and at this point there are two things left that you can do. The first option is to have another person assigned to the client, the face if you will. You can still pull all the strings behind the scenes, but if you can get someone else talking with the client and giving them information you would be surprised at how things can change. Don’t take it personally sometimes we all just need to hear the same things from someone else. Perhaps these two will have a better connection and when things are this bad where you need this option, chances are it is better for you in the long run as well. The worst case scenario in this situation is the client dislikes the new face as well and you have someone to commiserate with, best case scenario they both love working with each other and you can go back to sleeping at night.

The second option for level OH NO 3 is to just get through it. Not exactly what you were looking for I know. Every once in awhile we just need to plow through it and try to keep as much dignity intact as possible. You never know what will happen. I have seen this scenario happen and have the client call excited about how they can’t wait to work with said person again on the same event next year. Really it happened AND more then once. You never know what people are going to do.

Now that you know my tricks, what advice do you suggest that has worked with your nightmare client?

My Client is a Nightmare: How to Navigate a Difficult Client Relationship


Written By Shannon Anderson

Shannon has been an active member in the event industry for over 15 years trying out every job she could from banquet server to Director of Events.  Taking on challenges from the screens at the Sundance Film Festival, the exotic locations of destination weddings and the slightly scary convention centers in Cartagena, Columbia, she has been there, done that and made small children and clients happy.

Currently, Shannon divides her time between writing on her lifestyle blog, Red Wine and High Heels, and working on client driven projects with her company Anderson Events.