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Having A Difficult Conversation With A Client

Having A Difficult Conversation With A Client


This is my 9th installment of my Work Series Wednesday. Every Wednesday I will be sharing stories from my work journey and other work lessons I learned. This series is called #WhitxWorkSeries!

Having a difficult conversation with a client is never fun but it is necessary. After 10 years in media, I have had my fair share of difficult clients and difficult conversations. Whether it's talking to a client about a mistake on their account or addressing their inappropriate tone towards my staff I have had to address all sorts of different issues along the way in my career.  Those conversations can be a challenge but it tends to bring more trust and partnership, as long as you handle the conversation carefully.



Here are just a few difficult conversations I have had with clients over the years:

  1. I had a client threaten to pull $2 million dollars worth of advertising spend after there was an error across the account.
  2. I had a client threaten to cancel all media unless a senior team member did not immediately fly out to meet them at their office.....6 states away.
  3. I had to stop a meeting and threaten to leave a client's office because they would not stop screaming at myself and my team.
    • Side note: If you are a client - do not ever do this.  Yelling is inappropriate and. counterproductive. It will not endear the team to you or your account.



Manage Communication & Expectation -  Communication and expectation setting with clients are key. The main goal of any client is to hit their goals AND communicate back progress to their internal management.  Make sure you are clearly setting an expectation and communicating them - this can be for timelines, launch dates, progress reports etc. Document everything and follow up with your client to ensure you are getting them what they need. Over communication is always better for this scenario.

  • Clients tend to get frustrated or lash out if they feel they are not being full kept in the loop or they are unable to manage updates internally. If you get a panicked email or phone call from the client, figure out what is motivating that call and address the root issue.


Take Accountability - It's important when dealing with clients to always be accountable for your actions or that of your team. If there was an error or a mistake on a project or an account, acknowledge and own those issues to the client. Make it clear that you are aware of the mistake and addressing the issue. Be proactive about this - it's much better to be pointing out an issue, you have caught vs them finding it and you scrambling to address.

Work Tip: Its important as a manager to remember human error is something that can be bound to happen. But you rise and fall together as a team - so one person's mistake reflects across the whole team. For a client, it doesn't matter whether you made the mistake or your team member - the mistake happened.


Bring a Plan of Action - When mistakes or issues happen, as much as it is important to acknowledge and take ownership of the issues, it's also important to bring a plan of action. You need to provide exactly how you will be avoiding that specific issue or mistake in the future. Create a plan that addresses your clients goals and communication style.

  • Call & Email: Any mistakes or issues that happened across my accounts were always documented, clearly summarize in an email and then addressed with the client on a phone call. That way you are providing a direct line of communication, a summary of the issue for them to refer to and clear next steps.


Say No Without Saying No -  One of the most tricky parts about having a difficult client conversation is still sticking to the required scope of work and resources across the teams. Often times - clients feel they can push more with a mistake. Find a way to say "No" without actually saying "No". I typically avoided saying "No" to a request - even if that was my gut reaction. I usually tried to buy more time, by saying I was happy to look into their request or review additional options.

  • One thing I heard over and over again in the Media World, is that we are a service business and our goal is to provide premium service to our clients. Being pro-active, setting expectations around communication and deliverables is part of any good service. But you always want to ensure that your service is also getting that return value. It's important to understand whether that client is a net positive or a net negative for your company.





BONUS: Client Template

Client Convo 1: MISTAKE

Hi [Name]

We wanted to bring it to your attention that issue that happened. These are the details around the issue: XXX. We very much apologize for the inconvenience and wanted to get this address with you. Moving forward we will be updating our Q&A process by (steps that are changing) to avoid this issue.


I am happy to jump on a call to address.





Hi [Name]

I received your request around additional reporting and team resources. I will need to circle back with my team and management to review the current scope of the account as well as the additional hours required for this request. I will follow-up by end of the week and will add this as an action item to our weekly status to address.

Please reach out with questions.



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