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Managing difficult clients

Practice Management

Managing Difficult Clients

Kristan Wojnar, RCC™ Nov 25, 2019


Every advisor has them. Those clients who simply drain you and are downright difficult to manage.

How do you handle them without feeling defeated after every meeting? Human nature often causes us to avoid difficult clients. However, an upbeat attitude and finding positive ways to work with difficult clients is the key to succeeding versus feeling drained.

If you are looking for the right guidance to grow your practice, follow our Practice Management center.


Get at the Root of the Issue


There are no two ways about it. The difficult clients you have, challenge you. They are a lot of work, time-consuming and can be extremely high maintenance.

However, typically there is an underlying issue as to why these clients are difficult.

You can’t deny that money is an emotional topic. Talking about money can evoke feelings of stress, anxiety, fear and many other emotions. When clients are difficult, they are likely wrestling with an underlying fear or other emotion. And we base most of our financial decisions on our emotions.

If you truly care about the client and want to improve the relationship with them, it is important to get at the root of their emotions and seek to understand. By using powerful discovery questions, try to uncover what they are feeling. Use your empathetic listening skills. You might say something like, “I’m sensing that you may be feeling (insert emotion), am I right? If I am right, would you mind sharing with me more about how you are feeling?” Continue your questioning sequence and ask your questions with sincerity. Clients can see right through you if you are not genuine.

Whether you agree with their feelings or not, recognizing their emotions and validating them will go a long way with building positive relationships with difficult clients. Acknowledge and express that you understand how they are feeling. Be objective and open-minded. Don’t make the mistake of challenging them or getting defensive. Remember, this is not about you, it is about your client.


Identify Specific Requests


Once you have gathered as much information as you can about their emotions and feelings, take ample time to identify any specific requests he or she desires from you as their advisor.

Keep in mind, clients who are difficult might be difficult because they feel like they are not being heard. It is hard to know what baggage clients bring to the table. Perhaps they have had a prior advisor who did not hear them out. Past experience may be driving their difficult behavior.

Summarize their specific requests they have from you back to them. This is critical to maintaining a strong connection with him or her. Do not try to solve their issue before clarifying their requests from you.


Focus on a Solution


Now you are ready to focus on a solution. Give them any tools or information they need from you to collaborate on a solution.

Strive to co-create the solution so your client has ownership of it as well. Emphasize that you are their partner. Create specific timelines and be sure to follow up. It is also important to hold them accountable for their to-do items.


When It is Time to Part Ways


While the ultimate hope is that these tactics help to create positive experiences to strengthen your relationship with difficult clients, in some cases the tactics simply don’t work no matter how hard you try and it is best to ditch the difficult clients.

If they continue to resist, the negative pattern cycles over and over and you exhaust the tactics with no results or changes, it is important to identify when enough is enough. Sometimes firing the client is the best tactic and is simply time to part ways.

Some clients might become so difficult that they are abusive. It is one thing if they do not follow up on action items or return your calls. It is a whole other realm if they routinely rob you of your time, are difficult to talk to, unkind and just plain rude. In these cases, it likely makes sense to politely ask them to part ways with you.

If there is simply a mismatch in personality types, there may be another advisor on your team that is better-suited personality-wise to service this client’s needs that you can recommend.


Choose to Not Engage


Another option that some advisors choose is simply not to engage with difficult clients.

As soon as you see red flags, your prerogative may be to decide to not deal with clients who are problematic. If this is how you roll, kudos to you for standing firm on your ground. No drama just might be the best option for some advisors. However, it can be hard to spot these problematic clients when they are still prospects. Once they become clients it is harder to part ways and you should put your best effort forth to make the relationship a positive one.


The Bottom Line


You will encounter difficult clients. It is unavoidable. However, if you refine your approach to managing difficult clients, you just might be able to turn those difficult clients into your very best clients.

Remember, stay positive, stick to your boundaries and also know when it is time to call it quits.

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