(Editor's Note: Today's post, part three in our four-part Problem Client series, is a collaboration between WeddingIQ co-editors Jennifer Reitmeyer & Kyle Bergner. Be sure to check back next week for the conclusion of the series!)
In a perfect world, we would all attract wonderful, trusting clients who believe in our vision for their event and give us free reign to do what we do best. However, occasionally a difficult client will slip though the cracks despite our best efforts to dissuade or steer them toward a better option. When this happens we must find ways to minimize conflict while still giving them our best. After all, we're professionals and dealing with challenges is (or should be) our forte.
Here are a few tips to help you resolve issues when the relationship gets rocky.
Control the communication. Does your client text, email, Facebook message and call at all hours of the day or night? Of course you need to respond in a professional, timely manner, but you are not a doctor on call and are not obligated to respond every time they have a minor issue or request. You can help manage your client's expectations by setting the pace and format for your communications. One tip is to establish "business hours," if only in your mind. For example, in Kyle's photography business, she avoids communicating with clients Friday afternoon through Saturday, when she could reasonably be expected to be occupied with other clients' weddings (the exception, of course, being that she always responds to a client whose event is that same weekend!).
Also, when a client is in the habit of sending a deluge of messages, you can choose to limit your responses to once a day, being sure to address their multiple requests in a single message. You'll want to decide what form of communication you prefer as well. If you respond to a text with a text, they will expect you to continue to be available in this medium, so make sure it's one with which you are comfortable. You also do not need to respond the second you get a text or call. If you are in a meeting, busy with another client or simply in the middle of a task that needs concentration, the response can wait. Unless it is the day of the event, it is not an emergency.
Put it in writing. Email is a great tool to keep track of all your correspondence with a client. There is nothing like writing your clients in letter form to let your them know that you are a true professional. It also serves the double purpose of having a record of your conversations, which can be used as a reference when discrepancies arise later. If you meet in person, call or Skype, it's a great idea to summarize the topics covered in a follow-up email detailing the items discussed. That way, any misunderstandings can be addressed immediately, the client has a copy, and he or she cannot argue with your paraphrased notes months later. You will thank us for this the first time you run into real trouble, plus it helps to keep you organized when dealing with multiple clients.
Withhold something they want. If you're waiting on planning paperwork, menu or music selections, or (heaven forbid) a payment from a client, consider what you have in your possession that they want or need. In Jennifer's DJ company, her DJs found that clients often wanted to schedule their final music planning meeting, but had not bothered to fill out any of their song request sheets or even the most basic details of their event. This resulted in pointless meetings that stretched out endlessly, and concluded with the client still needing to decide on a ton of details. Now, the DJs wait to set the meeting until after they've received the paperwork from the clients, and the meetings are both shorter and more efficient. Sometimes withholding something valuable from the client - whether that be a meeting with you, or a product (such as photo proofs or an album) - can be the most effective way to get what you need. This may sound harsh, but keep in mind, you're only trying to give your client the best possible experience, and/or to receive the compensation agreed upon in your contract!
Know when it's time to have a serious conversation. If your relationship with your client isn't good, it may be that you need to have a very serious conversation about both parties' expectations and communication - to lay everything out on the table, so to speak. (Jennifer's Southern relatives might call this a "come to Jesus meeting.") Remember that you are obligated not only contractually, but ethically, to deliver your service or product to the best of your ability, and if some issue between you and your client is getting in the way of that, then it's up to you to address it. Perhaps the client is micromanaging your efforts because they don't trust you. Perhaps an overbearing family member or attendant is hampering your ability to serve your client best. Perhaps your client's chronic disorganization or inaccessibility is making it impossible for you to do your job. When something serious comes up, the time to address it is before the wedding day, before it's too late to turn things around.
Give them an out. Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts to serve our clients, it's clear that things just aren't going to work. It happens to the best of us - we may have ignored our instincts and signed a client who wasn't right for us, or maybe the entire planning process has just been a big example of Murphy's Law. When it's obvious you aren't going to be able to please the client, or when they're implying (or stating outright) that they may be happier with another vendor, we strongly advise you consider just letting go. You can have your soon-to-be-ex-clients sign a contract release form, absolving you of your responsibility to provide any further service, and limiting their ability to discuss online their experience with you. Of course, then there's the issue of money. If you're really dying to be rid of a problematic client, we recommend you refund the entirety of their money, thus completely severing their ties with you (and incentivizing them not to trash you in a review later). Of course, if you've already sunk money into their event, you may need to retain some of that money; however, in most cases, forfeiting it may be well worth the price of a lesson learned.
Managing problem clients is one of the hardest parts of our jobs as wedding professionals, but by being proactive in our communication and addressing issues as they arise, we can make that process easier.