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How to Respond to Difficult Client Requests

Kiley Peters

Entrepreneurship

If you're running a business, you're in the business of customer service and sales, no matter which way you slice and dice it. Now, in a perfect world, we'd never have to seek to build new business because every client would be over the moon in love with every single word you type and every conference call you lead. They'd be asking you how they can give you more money and have you do less. "Take a break," they'd say. "You're everything I've been searching for," they'd say. "You don't charge enough, add 20%," they'd say.

This is where I walk up to you and politely slap you in the face.

Sorry honey, that ain't how it works. But damn, if you live in that world, please send me an invite, I'm kinda funny and can bring giggles to the table, so if you're looking for backup, I'm your gal.

But for the rest of us, the real world looks something like Thumbthumping by Chumbawumba, "I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down." Then there's some drinking and some singing and a few super long days and then a couple more and then there's winning, and so on and so forth. (You're welcome for that 90s reference, by the way).

The point is, shit happens. So when shit hits the fan and clients throw you curve balls, what's the non-confrontational-I-still-need-to-run-a-business-and-can-we-still-be-friends approach?

I got you.

Now I don't know if someone else has coined this yet, but this is my approach whenever a client starts flirting with that scope creep line: AFOICH. I'll have to come up with a prettier acronym, but that's for another day.

  • ACKNOWLEDGMENT. 
    One of the greatest perpetual sources of conflict is when people don't feel like they're being heard. So before you respond to your client's scope creep request by telling them you feel like you're being taken advantage of, start with acknowledging their request/concern, etc. It'll level the playing field so everything else you're about to say isn't consumed defensively.
  •  FACTS. 
    As much as it pains me to say this, leave your feelings at home for a moment. Follow up your acknowledgment with the facts of your agreed upon scope of work, etc. This isn't personal, it's business. So just politely remind said client of the terms that you both previously agreed upon.
  • OPTIONS.
    This is why I like buffets: options. No one wants to be told what to do, almost every human would prefer to have options to choose from. Your client is likely no different. Present the options that they may want to consider. This is a great opportunity to allow your expertise to shine through. Chances you were likely hired because your client wants access to your recommendations, so share them.
  • IMPACT.
    There's an opportunity cost to everything. There will likely be an impact or potential implications to this request, their chosen option, etc. This isn't a guilt trip, again, it's factual. If they're requesting additional revisions, it might cost more and it might delay the launch date. But use this as an opportunity to clearly set expectations. If it costs more, how much and why? If it's delayed, how long and why? Make it easy for them to understand so they don't follow up with more questions.
  • CALL-TO-ACTION.
    Be super clear about what you need them to do to move forward and what next steps should look like. Again, proactively set all expectations. Leave no rock unturned. Let them know what you need them to do and by when: time, date and deliverables.
  • HUMILITY.
    This is a great opportunity to remember a bit of humility. There's always the chance you might have missed something or misunderstood something, so use this as an opportunity to ask. I often end these types of emails with, "Have I missed anything? Is there anything I've misunderstood?" Because it's a kind, human thing to do. No one is going to be offended and send a scathing response when you close your factual email by asking if you've understood their request properly. It's also a nice way to bring everyone back to the same page. After all, business is all about understanding one another, right?

Lastly, make sure to read back over your email and ask yourself two things:

  1. Is this factual or emotional? If it's emotional, remove the feelings (I know, I hate saying that, but it's true).
  2. Are there are any words or phrases should be reworded or removed just in case they might be taken the wrong way? You always want to triple check to make sure that a cadence of words isn't misconstrued.

Here's an example of a potential response:

Hi <name of client>,

(Acknowledge) Thank you so much for bringing this concern to my attention. I absolutely understand that you would like to add two more web pages to your website, given the new service offerings you've rolled out in your business. (Facts) Per our contract, we are currently scoped to build out 12 custom landing pages and this would bring the total to 14. (Options) Now, I know you're working on a budget, so I have a few ideas I'd like to run by you for consideration given this new request.

  1. We could combine these offerings with X and Y existing offerings on the website, so there wouldn't be additional pages.
  2. We could combine the About and Team pages, so this would only be one additional page.
  3. We could launch the website as is and add these two pages later so we don't delay the launch.

(Impact) If you decide that Option 1 seems like the way to go, we can move forward as is. If you'd like to take the path of Option 2, that will incur an additional X hours of work at Y hourly rate, for an additional cost of Z and may delay the launch of the website by XX business days. If you'd like to pursue Option 3, then that will incur an additional X hours of work at Y hourly rate, for an additional cost of Z and may delay the launch of the website by XX business days.

(CTA) I know your deadlines are quickly approaching, so in an effort to meet these for you, we'll need to know which path you'd like to follow by DATE at 5pm. If needed, we can draft up a brief addendum and will send over for your signature so we can be nimble.

(Humility) How does this sound? Is there anything I've missed or misunderstood?

Thank you again for the opportunity to work together!
<your name>

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And that's it folks. AFOICH your way to positive, mutually respectful client relationships and then let me know how it goes! If you have your own tips you'd like to share, please do! I'd love to hear from you at kiley@kileypeters.com!

Kiley Owner & CEO, Brainchild Studios

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