6 Kinds Of Problem Clients, And How To Cope With The Inevitable

In any business, it’s only a matter of time before you end up working with one of those clients.  You know the ones.  They make demands that are impossible to fulfill without the use of three times your staff and a time machine, or attempt to micromanage every single aspect of the process, or require the use of technology that exists only in the fleeting dreams of budding science-fiction writers, while single-handedly disproving the old stand-by, “the customer is always right” with a ruthless efficiency normally only seen in reptiles, spiders, and certain jungle predators in the process.  Then, once you’ve somehow managed actually acquiesce to their demands (in part due to your team having enough caffeine and adrenalin flowing through their systems to take down an entire herd of bull elephants), maybe they’ll say something along the lines of, “wait, it says here you wanted to be paid in actual money?”

It’s best to be prepared for the eventuality that you’ll have to deal with something like this, so in our never-ending quest to make your life easier, we here at Copper have decided to provide you a list of problem clients, how to respond, and (possibly more importantly) how not to respond to each one.

1) The Dreamer

Traits: Has brilliant ideas that may not be possible without the use of alien technology, writes long and rambling descriptions of demands without ever really getting to the point, often has no concept of the process involved in getting from point A to point B.

How to respond: Be patient.  Clearly explain how the things they want may not work and why, nicely ask for clarification on certain points in order to give them an end result that’s as close as possible to the one they desire, and make sure they know their feedback is an important part of the process.

How not to respond: “Why won’t it work?!  Because of physics, that’s why!”

2) The Micromanager

Traits: Wants to be involved in every single stage of the project, no matter how small.  Offers suggestions for every phase, many of which are inadvisable at best.  Sometimes comes off as trying to teach you how to do your job.

How to respond: Calmly tell them that it’s probably best if they take a few steps back and let you do what you’re paid to do.  When suggestions are offered, patiently tell the client exactly why things are done the way you do them instead of the way he wants you to do them (note: this may take multiple examples before they will learn to trust your judgement). 

How not to respond: “For the love of all that is holy, would you please just leave us alone?!”

3) The Psychic

Traits: Has certain ideas that have to be exactly replicated, while being unable to articulate said ideas with anything even approaching accuracy.  Often says things like, “that’s not how I pictured it, do it differently,” without providing any guidelines for doing so.  Has been known to add hours upon hours to the time needed to finish a project by fixating on one tiny detail and repeatedly saying, “weeeeell, no, that’s not right either.”

How to respond: This can be tricky.  Don’t be afraid to run through the entire repertoire of options available at the first sign that a client may be a Dreamer, as it will save you a lot of time and trouble later on.  Keep in mind that having a Dreamer as a client isn’t necessarily a bad thing, no matter how frustrating they can be.  They want the a satisfactory end like everyone else, they simply aren’t as good as most at properly relaying their wants and needs.

How not to respond: “I’m sorry, I’d love to help you, but our staff medium is out with the flu and we are currently unable to break through into the spirit world in order to find out exactly what you’re looking for.”

4) The Taskmaster

Traits: The Taskmaster is used to having things done their way immediately without question, and their mindset when working with you and your team is no different.  They are rude and demanding.  They want their results, and they want them now, and woe unto anyone who they think is standing in the way regardless of the reason.

How to respond: When discussing the time frame necessary to complete a project for a taskmaster, it might be necessary to treat it as if you’re haggling for prices.  If you think something’s going to take a certain amount of time, double it and let them argue you down to something reasonable.  Otherwise, while you might end up being under a high amount of stress for a while as you try to fulfill whatever seemingly impossible demands are being made of you, keep in mind that it’s not a permanent situation.

How not to respond: “Is that you, John Wayne?  Is this me?”

5) The Annihilator

Traits: Nothing is ever good enough for The Annihilator.  Even if your team follows the exact instructions given to the absolute letter, it will still be lacking in every single way possible.  First they yell, then they threaten, then they yell some more, and there is no force in the ‘verse that appears to be capable of pleasing them.

How to respond: While The Annihilator’s standards sometimes seem absolutely impossible to meet, keep in mind that this is actually not the case at all.  Sure, there are going to be a lot of headaches, but eventually things will be in proper order.  A good temporary solution during the whole ordeal is to spend less time trying to make them happy, and more time convincing them that they’re happier than everyone else.  Then, when you finally do meet their demands, their gratitude will be worth the experience…  particularly when it comes time for reviews and paychecks.

How not to respond: “You know what?  Just do it yourself then.”

6) The Devil Incarnate

Traits: Imagine a combination of the worst aspects of all of the above clients, but tainted by a streak of actual malevolence.  They expect absolute perfection without being clear about what that absolute perfection is, they rage when you are unable to fill impossible demands, and they often appear to expect you to work without things like sleep or payment.  If you were able to meet their impossible stare for long enough, you might notice that their eyes only blink from side to side, if they blink at all.

How to respond: Sometimes, in extreme cases, it’s okay to throw your hands up and tell someone they cannot be worked with any longer.  It may be hard, but it’s better in the long run.  Refer them to a competitor.

How not to respond: “Where do you want me to sign the contract again?  Also, why is it written in blood?”

We hope this helps you when dealing with clients in the future.  If there’s any we’ve forgotten, feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

Joseph H has a slight Dreamer streak going on, and has occasionally been known to go full Taskmaster against his better judgement.