How To Deal With Toxic Clients

Updated on 2 September 2019

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Toxic clients are highly demanding people, who want much more than what they are paying for and expect you to take the blame for their mistakes, explains Ivy Gura CA (SA) (Audit Senior) and Chipo Mashava CA(SA) (Audit Senior) of BDO on The Small Business Site.

“While we are not advocating that going the extra mile is not a good thing, it should not be at the expense of your sanity or the company’s bottom line. Dealing with toxic clients is exhausting, stressful and unrewarding.”

Tom Manners, co-CEO of Clockwork Media, explains that, in his experience, most clients are not inherently ‘bad’; they are often just in a bad situation.

“What contributes to a toxic client environment? [It’s] the inability to make decisions. No appreciation of time or the craft. Inconsistency. Or thinking that everything can be done based on assumption rather than hard facts. These are the more obvious signs.”

Clients are not inherently ‘bad’; they are just in a bad situation

Manners warns that the impact of a toxic client can be the result of a client’s existing internal organisational challenges.

“Do not underestimate the effect an internal organisational structure can have on a client’s ability to do their job. I have seen it time and time again. The effort that goes into appeasing everyone within their organisation, leaves an agency in limbo [and] unsure of what is required.”

This anxiety is then passed onto the agency, says Manners. “This is where unrealistic deadlines and working hours come into play. And often, when anxiety isn’t even warranted.

“Not arming the marketing team with enough decision-making power is another contributor. I have experienced clients that require 30-odd approvals for just one piece of content.”

What’s the most effective way forward? Manners suggests educating and supporting the client.

Educate your team members and also your client on your business’ processes, advises Manners. “Interventions from executive members are needed from the onset. Those hard conversations that will help the client understand the agency’s way of working. Be real and honest. Explain the kind of work you want to do as an agency, and what processes are required to make that happen.”

You need a very good understanding of who you want your agency to be

Lastly, you must empower your client. “Make them look good,” says Manners. “And importantly, help them get that buy-in from their senior team. This is the best approach if you’re going to build that trust from day one.

“At the end of the day, if you are to build and maintain a great client-agency relationship, you need a very good understanding of who you want your agency to be. And working in partnership [will help you] to get to that finish line.”

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