Five tips for dealing with high maintenance clients

Certain clients -- and you know who they are -- require some special strategies to make the relationship bearable. Jack Wallen offers some survival tips for handling those problematic clients.

If you are consultant, the phrase "high maintenance clients" probably sends you into a shivering, fetal coma or a beast-mode rage. These clients are at best hard to deal with and at worst insufferable. The problem is... they are your clients and your clients pay your bills. So what do you do when clients push your every button, challenge you at every corner, and make your daily life a living hell? Here are five easy tips to make sure those moments when you must deal with those clients are at least tolerable.

1: Schedule them early

This may be a surprise to you, but the later in the day you schedule problem clients, the harder the appointment will be. More often than not, high maintenance clients tend to take up more of your time than the average client. Because of this, you always want to make sure these clients are not bumping up against what should be your end of day. If they start keeping you from making your way home, your ability to deal with them will diminish exponentially. This tip comes with an asterisk, of course. If you schedule these clients at the beginning or middle of your day, make sure you give them plenty of time; otherwise, you will be bumping those lower-maintenance clients back or even off your schedule. And remember: Give yourself enough time to have that first cup of coffee before you deal with these clients.

2: Schedule them frequently

These clients, generally speaking, are happiest when they think you are their slave. Frequent scheduling will lessen the degree of issues you have to deal with per visit. If this is a maintenance client (one who pays you a set fee per month for a certain number of hours of work), make sure you break this up into frequent visits. This type of scheduling will ensure the problems you are dealing with are less and less severe. If you schedule one long visit (to avoid seeing them and to resolve as many issues as possible), that visit is going to be uncomfortable on both sides of the fence. That is not how you want to maintain a relationship with that type of client.

3: Turn the other cheek

This one is a huge challenge for some. Demanding or difficult clients are really going to have you wanting to speak your mind or rebuff their ridiculous claims with a few choice words. Guess what that will do? At best it will make the relationship worse and at worst it will have your name smeared across town by everyone that client comes in contact with. Yes, it is true that more people are willing to say bad things than good things. Don't let those clients get the upper hand due to a simple slip of the tongue. Wait until you are at home and vent to your spouse or your dog. Always remember that you can catch more flies with honey. It really applies here. After enough honey, those high maintenance clients may realize that you actually do know what you are doing and they can, in fact, trust you.

4: Don't let them bully you, but...

There is always a "but," right? With these types of clients, if you set the precedent that they can push you around, they will. Believe me, you do not want this. If those clients always have the upper hand, they will use it, and you will suffer this until the day you retire. Instead, make sure the client knows that you are in control and you understand what needs to be done to ensure their business is up and running quickly and safely. But while you want to be firm and prevent them from pushing you around, make sure you are not pushing back. Overcoming being "bullied" with "bullying" will cause you to lose clients. And if you lose clients like this... well, you know where that path leads. It's not pretty and it's not lucrative.

5: Fire them

In the end, it's your choice. But if you try your best to secure this relationship and it just will not work, it's in your best interest to "fire" these clients well before everything goes tragically south. Keep in mind that when you do the firing, you should do it without pointing the finger of blame at the client. Do not make the client feel like it is their fault. The fine line you must walk here also requires you to avoid blaming yourself. You don't want to come off as incompetent. Instead, you can go a number of ways with this: You can raise your rates (for that client only, if you're comfortable doing that) to the point where they can't afford your services. Or you can schedule yourself in such a way that the client can't get you in. Another safe method is to tell the client you are scaling back. But in the end, use caution when recommending that client to other consultants. If you send an unmanageable client to a friend or to someone you respect, it could come back to haunt you.

Tread carefully

The unfortunate reality is that there are only so many clients out there, and some of those clients aren't worth dealing with. Clients who bring about the most headaches must be treated differently from those who do not. The decision to keep working with them is yours. If you decide to terminate that relationship, make sure you do so with caution. Your fate is in your own hands -- as is your sanity. Treat them both carefully.

Do you have to work with a lot of high maintenance clients? What strategies do you use to maintain a viable relationship with them?

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....