Ask Imagine: How do you handle a difficult client?

We recently received this question from a long-time reader of our blog:

There sometimes comes a time when a long-time client assigns a liaison who for some reason either doesn’t like your team or simply is difficult to work with. Because the person is the conduit through which all your communication flows to the decision makers, it can be a challenge to get your concerns across without stepping on toes. Do you have any tips for such situations?

I took the question to the client services team (myself included) to see how they would handle this situation. Here’s what they said:

“I would look at doing an internal reassignment, trying to match a different account manager whose style and expertise may be more in alignment with the client’s new liaison. If that still doesn’t produce the desired results, I’d schedule a meeting directly with the owner or CEO to discuss the issue and brainstorm solutions.” – Brian Rouff

“If it is a long-time client and you have an established relationship with the decision maker, I would pull him/her aside and explain the potential issue. Being proactive before you are thrown under the bus can be uncomfortable, but may save the relationship. Be sure to keep the conversation professional. Chances are, you are not the first or only one having an issue.” – Megan Neri

“I would take the liaison to lunch and have a frank discussion with him/her about any concerns. If it doesn’t get resolved at that level, then I would address the situation with the long-term client. It’s not good to let things like this go for long.” – Sheri Long

“Pay attention to how he/she communicates with you and adjust your management style to fit his/her personality. Just like you test strategies for a client, test communication methods with the client. For example, if you find the liaison offers short, curt responses, keep your messages brief as well. If you find the liaison finds fault with every piece you submit, figure out what the common thread is and adjust accordingly.

Another approach is try to connect with the liaison on a personal level. I’ve found talking sports can be a neutral ice-breaker, if you treat rivalries civil. Sometimes, it just takes reminding the other person that you’re both human and there is more to you than work.” – me

If you’ve been in a similar situation, what strategies have you tried? Share your success stories in the comments below.

And if you have a question you’d liked answered, let me know. We’re happy to help with any account management, public relations or graphic design issues you may have!

Nadia Zerka is an account director for Imagine Communications.

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