How to deal with a “needy” client and manage expectations

How to deal with a “needy” client and manage expectations

You sit down at your desk with a fresh cup of coffee and notice the red voicemail light blinking on your phone. Almost immediately, you get an email notification. Without checking, you know exactly who the voicemail and email came from.

We all have that one client (or two) who needs constant contact and hand-holding, but we just don’t have the time or patience to communicate with them on a daily or even weekly basis. There is a way to establish an effective line of communication to put an end to the “needy” client calls and emails.

Depending on your type of work, you may have a large amount of accounts, each taking anywhere from a few days to several months to be resolved. Oftentimes, you cannot resolve an  issue entirely on your own, and must wait for someone else’s input, either within or outside of your organization, before you can proceed with an account. Therefore, establishing realistic expectations is key to managing a needy client so that you aren’t spending your workday repeating “I don’t have an update for you.”

So, you’ve decided to stop avoiding that client and finally return their call or reply to their email. Great! Except that you don’t have an update for them since the last time you spoke with them (last month, last week, yesterday). Whether you have an update or not, it is best to send a prompt response to ensure a positive client experience.

Use the tools outlined below the next time you contact a “needy” client, via email or by phone.

What to say if a client has reached out more than once

Always begin by holding yourself accountable for the delay in response, even if it’s only been a couple of days.

  • “I apologize for the lapse in communication.”

Stating the date and reason for their last correspondence shows that you are reading your emails and not simply deleting them.

  • “Please accept my apologies for not responding to your email on (date) regarding….”

Ideally, you should have let them know ahead of time that you would be out of the office, but this response shows that you value your job and want to acquire more skills in your field.

  • “I was away at a continuing education seminar and did not have access to voicemails or emails.”

You should have a colleague that serves as a back-up if you are busy or just not in the mood to deal with a client. Your colleague probably hasn’t dealt with the client as much as you have, and won’t mind sending a quick email reply or letting them talk for a couple of minutes.

  • “If you are ever unable to reach me, please contact my colleague at (#), and they will be able to assist you.”

Below are some key phrases you can use to set the tone for future communication with the client.

What to say to set boundaries and prevent repetitive calls and emails

Create a guideline for communication so that you have time to work on their account and the client is not expecting weekly or even daily contact.

  • “During the process we may have to wait for a response from another agency. I will be sure to contact you at minimum every 30 days with an update. Please advise if an email or a phone call is best for you.”

Buy yourself some time if you are unable to immediately address a client concern by providing a time frame for response.

  • “I want to make sure I provide you with accurate information, I am going to research this and get back to you by the end of business Friday.”

Send a quick reply to let the client know you got their email, and set a time to talk when you are free.

  • “I am currently working on another account, please let me know if you are available to chat on (date).”

Give yourself a 2-day cushion to get back to the client.

  • “Much of my time is spent collaborating with other departments, please allow 48 hours for a response to a voicemail or email.”

It is important to show compassion towards their situation while building client confidence in your company.

  • “I understand that the process can seem daunting, but please know we are working hard to obtain the best resolution for you.”

Speaking of building client confidence, below are some phrases you want to avoid using during a conversation with a client.

What not to say when dealing with a high maintenance client

Do not use these phrases when speaking with a client.

  • “I was waiting until I had an update to reach out.”
  • “You know you aren’t the only client I have.”
  • “I was on vacation and no one else is working on your account.”
  • “Yes, I got the 5 emails and 3 voicemails this week.”
  • “You know you only need to call/email once, I do get them.”
  • “You realize I have 150 other accounts I am working on.”

Not only are these responses unprofessional, it will only make the client more anxious about the status of their account and your abilities to do your job.

Finally, remember that the longer you avoid a “needy” client, the more frustrated you’ll both become, which will make for an unpleasant conversation the next time they do reach you. Worse, they might call around and complain about you to anyone who will listen. Avoid them long enough, and it may lead to loss of the client and revenue for the company. Even if the delay in account resolution was beyond your control, it will reflect negatively on you. Instead, you want to instill confidence so that they don’t feel the need to constantly check in.

You now have the tools to deal with a difficult client and how to set the tone for future contact, so the next time they reach out, you’ll be ready!