Managing difficult or unexpected requests. A formula for success

This basic formula is one that I use daily in my contact with clients. It’s very simple but did take a while to perfect. The key is understanding my own and my clients’ motivations, after that it became very clear.

This formula works best for service based industries that will receive unexpected, out of scope or just a bit weird requests from clients. The principles of this approach can easily be tailored to most situations and will at least give everyone a place to start.

Before you get started don’t make assumptions, or rather do! Assume that the client wants to hear your best advice and understands that new or out of scope work will come at a cost. It’s up to them to decide what they are willing to spend to get the outcome they want, all you need to do is give honest clear information.

Step 1. Say yes

Your client has trusted in you to be their expert. So the first step is to re-enforce this feeling by saying yes. Of course there will be times when a customer asks for something that doesn’t exist or isn’t possible, in which case be honest and jump to step 3.

But if it is possible and you can do it, say so. Otherwise your customer is going to go into panic mode and this will cloud their judgement. Similarly starting an email off by saying no will also panic a client especially if they suddenly feel that they have no control over the situation.

Step 2. Explain the repercussions

Now you have re-affirmed that you are an expert and that you can do anything, because you’re totally awesome. It’s time to tell them the repercussions of their request.

It might be a large expense for minimal benefit, it may impact badly on other items of the project or it might push a tight deadline back. Give them the information so they can understand the situation and make the right choice.

Another important note here is to make sure you don’t swamp your client with too much information or information that is too technical. This can result in them feeling that they are being deliberately overwhelmed and can make you look unsympathetic.

Give them just enough information to understand with a hint that there is further explanation if needed; chances are they will trust you and not ask further questions because you have been open with them.

Step 3. Offer alternatives

Here is your chance to push the best compromise. Answer the clients brief at a price that reflects the value to them (where possible) and in a way that doesn’t negatively impact other items of the project. Then your preferred option becomes a “no brainer”.

Step 4. Give the customer control

Finish off by highlighting your recommended option and then ask for the client to confirm which option they would like to go with. Nine times out of ten you will get the outcome you hoped for.

If the client does choose the undesired option, remind them of the repercussions and inform them of when the work has been planned into your workflow, this gives them one last chance to reconsider.

Having a tried and tested formula really does take the stress out of difficult requests so I urge anyone who deals with this sort of contact regularly to really think about the best process that they can follow.

Here at Media Heroes, we deal with unexpected and difficult customer requests every day. Get in touch with our experts for more advice and of course any other advice you need to super power your digital strategy.