How to get the customer off your back

Customers become a nuisance whenever they develop a tendency to cling. Suddenly, you find yourself spending a lot of time in meetings and phone calls that you’d rather use for working on your tasks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freelancer working for several companies or if your customers sit in the same company as yourself, you’ll eventually experience the contact-hungry client.

How should you deal with that need? The request “Excuse me, but could you please leave me alone and let me do my work?” doesn’t seem very effective.

Gitte Härter over at unternehmenskick.de gave that situation a second look and switched to another perspective: that of the customer. She found out that often a heightened need of communication comes from insecurity. In detail, she lists the following causes for insecurity in a professional relationship:

  • The customer doesn’t yet know you.
  • The customer made some bad experiences.
  • The customer himself is insecure.
  • The customer likes to chat.
  • The customer wants to dominate you.
  • You invoke the feeling, that you’re insecure or maybe understood something wrong.
  • You failed in posing enough of the right questions, maybe even regarding the core issues that you need to understand to deliver the right solution.
  • You seem to walk in another (your own?) direction.
  • You failed another time in the past.
  • You don’t respond promptly to phone calls or emails.
  • You’re generally too silent.
  • You communicate too vaguely.

Over the years, I learned that customers abhore a communication vacuum. So, if you don’t communicate the customer expects you to, oftentimes they will take the lead and make you communicate. Unfortunately, this will never be as effective as if you established a steady and controled information flow in the first place.

Gitte has the following suggestions on how you can take the lead and position yourself as a professional partner:

  1. Create trust. — Be present, pose the right questions, show genuine interest in your counterpart. Get all the information necessary to deliver a good job. Also, dare to give honest feedback; for example, explain the customer if his ideas don’t hit the spot.

  2. Make clear that you’ll get in touch when it’s time. — You’ll rid yourself of control calls as soon as your customer can trust that you work on their issue and will get back to them when questions, showstoppers or delays occur. Make sure you do! Send short receipt acknowledgements, deliver status reports or give a perspective on when you’ll follow up.

  3. Be the boss in your area. — Your customer gives the order and has the say on goal and conditions, but he isn’t supposed to interfere on your area of expertise. Stand your ground.

  4. Lead the conversation. — Never be passive in a conversation. Lead the dialogue, show you’re efficient. Get to the point. Don’t get lost in endless discussions or waste your time in useless chitchat.

  5. Summarize what you agreed upon. — Everytime you talked (or emailed) about something, at the end summarize the relevant points and what each will do until when.

  6. Acknowledge “good” behaviour. — A customer delivers all information in time and doesn’t question everything? He leaves you especially much freedom? Tell him about your happiness about his behaviour: “Working with you is great: you send everything so quickly and you’re open to my suggestions — thank you!”

  7. Always meet deadlines. — Always. Meet them without exception. So make them realistic. If there’s a rare emergency, inform the customer immediately.

So the summary is: Oftentimes, it’s not the customer, it’s you. Drive or be driven.