Difficult Clients vs. Bad Clients

David Burstein, P.E.
Posted on: 11/14/17
Written by: David Burstein, P.E.

photo-1433878455169-4698e60005b1-1-572154-edited.jpgWouldn't it be wonderful if all our clients were great to work with?  Unfortunately, if your architecture or engineering firm worked only with great clients, there probably wouldn't be enough work to keep everyone busy, much less allowing for growth.  

So sometimes we have to work for clients that aren't great.  But difficult clients aren't the same as bad clients. 

Here is a typical list of what we consider to be bad clients:

  • Establish expectations that are impossible to meet

  • Sue your firm if things aren’t perfect

  • Don’t pay their bills

  • Require you to do things that are illegal or highly unethical

  • Lie to you 

You might add a few more things but it’s a fairly short list.  Most difficult clients aren't bad clients, they just have a different view of your relationship.  Let’s say you have a client that doesn't view you as a professional partner, but as a contractor.  That’s not necessarily bad – as long as you understand the relationship and act accordingly.  In dealing with such clients, ask yourself how a good construction contractor would handle them – and do the same.

Sometimes clients are difficult because their internal bureaucracy prevents them from dealing with you the way you’d like them to.  In this case, the best thing you can do is to learn how their bureaucracy works – inside out.  That knowledge will help you navigate through their maze of procedures to get what you need.

So the next time you get stuck with a difficult client, ask what it is that makes them difficult – and develop a plan to deal with it.  And if have a truly bad client, finish the project as best you can and recommend to your principals that you no longer pursue work with them.  There are plenty of good clients out there!

About the Author: David Burstein P.E. is Director of Client Services for PSMJ Resources, Inc. He provides consulting and training services on the subjects of strategic planning, marketing, project management, human resources, quality, finance and ownership transition. 

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