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Event professionals work with many different types of clients. Often this is one of the best parts of the job. Clients can be delightful, perhaps even becoming close friends or advocates for your business. Some clients aren’t memorable, devoid of any eventful experiences. Then there are the difficult clients in the event industry.

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Difficult clients in the event industry are similar to tough clients in other industries but also have their unique problems. A difficult client might monopolize your time. Others may demand outrageous services. Perhaps they are slow to pay or unable to make decisions. Often difficult clients in the event industry tend to create emergencies out of minor situations. In the worst-case scenario, your difficult client is all of the above. No matter the type, they drain your energy and are hard to work with.

Types of Difficult Clients in the Event Industry

  • Everything is an Emergency Client –  These clients cause a panic about minor details. They also take up a lot of your time.
  • I’m Not Sure What I Want Client – This person may constantly change their mind and lack vision. These clients can also find decisions crippling.
  • Know-It-All Client – The know-it-alls believe they know exactly how to do your job and everything about events. 
  • Constantly Changing Deadlines Client – This client tells you they have plenty of time before they need a quote but then decides they need it by tomorrow.
  • I Don’t Really Care Client – This very hands-off approach can be frustrating. It is hard to fulfill the client’s unspoken needs or expectations when all they tell you is they don’t care. 
  • Complainer Client – This client knows how to find a problem with everything and nitpick. You may find they often don’t know what they want, but whatever you offer is not it!
  • How Much Extra Will This Cost Client – This client is keeping their tight budget in mind. They will remind you of this throughout the working relationship

When dealing with difficult clients in the event industry it’s crucial to take proactive steps from the beginning to avoid catastrophic scenarios and remain in control. Below are suggestions on how to deal with those tricky clients and keep your partnership strong.

Communicate with the Right Words

Using effective words can be a game-changer when dealing with difficult clients in the event industry.  When you have a tough client it might feel like a miracle is needed to improve the situation. Always use clear and concise communication when conversing with them. Also, be mindful of your words. Try to be empathetic and put try to put yourself in their shoes, it will go a long way. 

Know When to Say Sorry

You should always apologize when you are in the wrong. But sometimes in difficult situations, we say sorry when we really shouldn’t. This can come off as insincere and even unprofessional.

An example we see often is if a client asks for a service you don’t offer you say “I’m sorry, we do not offer those services”. Instead of apologizing, try helping them “Unfortunately we don’t offer those services. However, I can recommend this vendor who would be excellent for what you need.”

Of course, there are times when mistakes are made and apologies are a must. Never use excuses and always admit your errors. If you’re late on a deadline you could say, “I apologize we weren’t able to complete the quote on time. I understand that this affects your timeline and I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.” This reminds the client that you truly understand why they are upset. Taking responsibility and using the right tone in sticky situations like these can defuse client frustration and show understanding. 

Use Measurables

Generalizations are not useful in productive conversations. When working with difficult clients in the event industry it is important to always use specific and measurable statements. A client may say, “my event never runs smoothly!” when they are frustrated. Ask them for specific details as to why they said that. If you listen to their problems and what went wrong in the past you will be able to find solutions to help them with future events. Always offer concise and measurable ways you can solve their problems.

Let Them Vent and LISTEN

You must let your angry client vent. Let them explain their frustrations. Show empathy, nod, and make eye contact. If you are on the phone make an agreeing sound to let them know you hear what they are saying. Let them vent as long as they need, do not interrupt them. Don’t argue either, just stay quiet. When the customer is done venting only they can speak. Repeat what they have concerns about and show empathy. If there are solutions you can offer tell them. If there is no solution or you disagree, explain why in a respectful way.

Often when you let a customer vent they will diffuse themselves! You will find they feel listened to and often are less angry after venting. Your client may also give you critical feedback. Maybe you have accidentally overpromised or painted a different picture in their mind than what they received. If you listen you might uncover problems you didn’t see within your business. This allows you to fix the issue so it does not happen again.

Document Everything

Documentation is a powerful tool. It’s especially important when dealing with clients. Documentation can protect you in situations where allegations are made against you or a client fabricates conversations. If this ever happens you’ll be thankful you have taken the steps documented. Document in writing discussions or agreements with clients. Always be sure to have clear email chains and contracts in place. This can ensure that key issues key are addressed and protect you in worst-case scenarios. 

Document in writing discussions or agreements with clients. Always be sure to have clear email chains and contracts in place. This can ensure that key issues key are addressed and protect you in worst-case scenarios. 

Establish a Goal

Setting goals is a necessary part of being productive. Always ask your client what they are trying to achieve at their event. It is important to repeat the goals discussed back to your client. Once your client confirms everything is understood, document the goals you have agreed upon. Use these goal(s) as a starting point for conversation and work being done moving forward. 

Additionally, ask to establish goals for every individual conversation or meeting held with your client. At the beginning of your meeting ask, “What would you like to achieve during this meeting today?”. This will help guide the conversation to what they are hoping to accomplish. It will also keep the conversation focused, avoiding unrelated conversations.

Record Conversations, When Possible

When dealing with a tough client, it is important to make sure you are always on the same page. Every conversation should end with a clear direction toward your next steps. Ask your client if it’s okay to record phone calls and video conferences. This will allow both of you access to information discussed in case anything was missed or misunderstood.

If you are unable to record the conversation or it takes place in person, always send a follow-up email. End the conversation by confirming what was accomplished and the action plan moving forward.  Following the conversation send a quick email summarizing what was said and confirm the action plan one more time. At the end of your email, ask, “Did I miss anything?”. This will help keep both parties accountable for what was agreed upon.

Build Trust

Trust is the most important part of building a successful relationship, especially with difficult clients. Trust is built through clear, honest communication and mutual respect. When you create a relationship that is established with honesty and confidence, it allows you the freedom to produce your best and most creative work. Remember, building trust can sometimes be a slow process that takes dedication and effort.

Set Clear Expectations and Stick with Them

Whenever expectations go unmet trust can be broken. This can be frustrating to both you and the client. Expectations, such as the job details should be made clear in a contract or agreement. But you must think about the gaps that are not discussed in the documentation. These gaps can be expectations for communication, timing, or more. 

If it is unclear what an expectation is you need to ask your client what they expect! Does your client expect you to answer the phone any time of night? How fast does your client expect you to respond to an email? 

When creating these expectations, be realistic! This is especially important when dealing with deadlines. If your client is asking for something by the end of the day, but you are in constant meetings the rest of the afternoon doesn’t agree. Let your client know that it is unrealistic with your schedule to get the work done today. Give them a specific time that you will be able to have it delivered instead.

If you can be specific and give measurable expectations, your client will not be disappointed and know what to expect. It is crucial to have these discussions before a problem arises. Expectations can help avoid disappointment from either party. As always, make sure everything is clear and documented.

Under Promise, Over Deliver

In both social and business settings, promises are made for four reasons. Promises can be made to create a commitment, regulate and direct behavior, reduce uncertainty, and build trust. Kept promises are necessary foundations for maintaining and growing relationships. However, never promise anything unrealistic.

This is very similar to setting expectations. It would be unwise to promise a report to be in your manager’s hand by the end of the day if you have yet to start it. Even if you think you will manage to get your project done, who knows what might pop up. 

Avoid making promises when you think you will have something done. Instead, calculate the time you believe it will take, then double that to give you wiggle room. Add even more time if you know you will be busier than normal. If you finish the project early great it’s a nice surprise for your client. If you want happy clients always under promise and overdeliver. 

Build Relationships Using Needs-Based Selling

Relationship building is critical amongst sales teams and successful businessmen.  Long ago sales reps used to pressure buyers into products they may not even need or be ready for. They weren’t listening and were instead focusing on shoving the latest products down people’s throats. Finally, they discovered that is not the way to build a good relationship and make sales. In today’s world, successful sales relationships are created when the seller listens to the needs and wants of the buyer. They recommend services based on those needs instead of just what they want to sell. 

Using this method can build trust early on in the relationship and is the foundation for growth. Relationships continue to flourish as you hold genuine conversations (not everything needs to be about business). By listening to your client’s needs you continue to add value by seeking ways to make their lives easier.

Position Yourself as an Expert

People who are considered experts in their field have an advantage against the competition. Establishing yourself as an expert may be easier than you think. You can showcase your industry knowledge by building an online presence, or writing articles related to your field. Constantly seek out the latest news so you are informed of changes and new products within your field. Be heavily involved in industry conversations as a thought leader and you will soon be a go-to in the industry. 

Own Your Knowledge

Remember, you are the expert in your field. Stay consistent and confident throughout your conversations. Avoid phrases such as, “but I’m no expert.” Even when discussing something that might be outside of your normal scope, phrases like this can damage your professionalism. If you do not have the answers to a client’s question it is ok. Respond by saying, “I’ll need to look into that and get back to you.” This comes across much better than admitting that you don’t have a clue what they’re asking for and shows that you are resourceful.

Acknowledge, but Don’t Always Agree

Difficult clients often have strong opinions. They aren’t shy about letting you know the way they think things should be done at their event. While this can be challenging, it is important to remember that you are the expert. You don’t have to agree with your clients! It does not help you to build trust or position yourself as an expert if you agree but don’t believe it.

If you do not believe their idea is in their best interest tell them!  Acknowledge their point of view, then give your expert and honest opinion.

For example, if a client demands a certain convention layout you but know it will not work be honest.  Let them know why and suggest an alternative layout as a solution. Explain why you would go with the alternative suggestion. Always have patience and educate your client on why you happen to disagree and help them see the benefits you can provide with your suggestion.

If a client has a complaint you don’t always have to agree but you do need to acknowledge their frustration. By acknowledging the situation you can direct the conversation towards a solution for their complaint. Truly listen to your client. Reiterate you understand how they feel, and explain why you disagree. If you are listening and find yourself agreeing with them, offer a solution that can make you both happy. 

Worst Case Scenarios

While we hope you don’t have these issues often, it is important to know how to deal with a difficult client in the worst-case scenario. If nothing feels like it’s working try these strategies to hopefully come to a resolution.

Poor Personality Combination

Like oil and water, sometimes certain personalities just don’t mix. There are times you have to do the best you can to make it work. Sometimes in large companies, you might have an opportunity to turn the situation around. If your organization has multiple account managers, you may want to consider seeing if the client would work better with someone else. If you switch managers explain to the client why you feel this new person would be a better fit for them. Do your best to make the process as smooth as possible. If done correctly, this transition can show excellent customer service. The client will respect that you found someone who is a great personality fit for them to work with.

Fire Your Client

You never want to lose a client. However, it is important to determine whether the monetary value is worth dealing with a very difficult client. There are times when you have tried everything and your energy and resources feel depleted. You find yourself thinking absolutely nothing will make your client happy. If that is the case, it is better to cut your losses and move on.  Saying goodbye would free up your energy and allow your valuable time to be spent working with those who appreciate your efforts. 

It is important to break up on good terms. NEVER burn bridges, the event industry is small everyone knows everyone. If possible, offer referrals for other companies and try to be as helpful as possible. You never know where your difficult client may end up working in the future. Therefore, it is important to keep everything kind and professional.

In conclusion, dealing with difficult clients is never easy. If you use these tips you will set yourself up for successful relationships lowering the chance of difficult clients. If you have your customer’s best interest at heart and care, you will rarely lose a customer. Remember, every client should always be handled with care. Your goal should be to establish long-term, successful relationships with your clients. Use these tips and circle back to them often when dealing with difficult clients in the event industry to have better client experiences! 

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Taryn Johnson

Author Taryn Johnson

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