6 ways to protect your business from difficult clients

Authored by Hiscox Experts.
5 min read
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Whether it’s because their expectations aren’t in line with reality, communication is poor, or there’s an unignorable clash of personality, difficult clients are simply part and parcel of doing business. The key to maintaining a positive relationship with these tricky customers and ensuring their demands don’t jeopardise your work, is knowing how to deal with them appropriately.

In order to keep business running smoothly through tricky times with a client, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Set realistic client expectations

To prevent any confusion or disagreements later down the line, one of the most valuable things you can do when starting a new project is manage client expectations.[1] This should include everything from the deadlines and results of your work, to your own availability for communications throughout the working week.

Setting client expectations means being strategic about your deliverable dates, even when the work is completed ahead of time. It’s always better to play it safe with realistic targets. If a deadline has been agreed, don’t be afraid to put your foot down if the client starts pressing for it to be completed earlier, especially if this could endanger the quality of the work or other client commitments.

When starting work with a new client or changing arrangements, it’s critical that you have a clear formalised contract written up and signed by both parties.[2] This should outline all the terms of your agreement, the work that will be undertaken, and in what timeframe. This way you have something to refer back to if trouble does arise.

Maintain control

When learning how to deal with difficult clients, the most valuable lesson is mastering the knack of maintaining control and asserting authority.[3] You can do this by ensuring you are always the one to make the first move. If you’re the person who organises meetings, sets the agenda for a meeting, or initiates phone calls, it will set the tone for your client relationship. Staying one step ahead will give you an advantage and keep you at the helm of each project.

Provide solutions

While at times you may feel a client is being unreasonable or making unrealistic demands, shooting them down isn’t going to help the situation. Keep them sweet and they’ll be easier to work with. Happy clients are also the best form of marketing, as they’ll give glowing recommendations if you provide them with a service they are pleased with.

To make a difficult client relationship easier, always be willing to hear them out and provide help where you can. Make it clear to them what you intend on doing to correct any issues and ask for their input on what they would like to be done to resolve the problem.[4] Asking for their thoughts will also make them feel more valued as a client, as it indicates that you really care about their opinion.

Keep your cool

Remaining cool in a stressful or confrontational situation is one of the most valuable skills you can have when dealing with angry clients.[5] It’s only human to want to respond defensively when somebody is behaving in a hostile or critical manner but doing so will only land you in deeper water.

Whether the communication is in person, on the phone or via email, take a moment to breathe and compose yourself before responding. This should take the edge off your initial feelings and allow you to approach the topic in a more rational manner. Maintaining professionalism when they’re expressing anger can help you achieve the upper hand and it will also allow you to listen to their issues more closely if you remain calm and civil.

Purchase professional indemnity insurance

Should things boil over and the client alleges that you’ve provided sub-standard work or professional advice that has resulted in them seeing financial loss, the best thing you can do is to have the appropriate business insurance in place.

By having professional indemnity insurance, it will help to cover your business in case such a claim is made against your business. The nature of indemnity cover is designed to protect businesses from the costs of settling a compensation pay out or even for legal defence if the case goes to court.

Consider cutting ties

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, there are some client conflicts that can’t be resolved. If they’re creating more tension than they’re worth, or negatively impacting other areas of your business, it may be the right decision to cut your losses and end the relationship.[6]

You need to look out for your business, and if this particular client is taking up too much time or causing your employees stress, it will be a better use of your time and resources to focus on other projects. To prevent finding yourself in this kind of scenario, there are a few red flags that will indicate they could be a problem client.

Everyone will deal with a tricky client or customer at some point in their career, but by following the advice above, with luck you’ll be able to put out any fires before they have a chance to get out of control. Everyone’s human, and the key is to understand the types of clients you’re working with and how to handle each one in a way that works with them individually. By behaving professionally and doing what you can to resolve problems quickly and effectively, you’ll hopefully be able to maintain positive client relationships that enrich the business, rather than hinder it.


[1] https://andreacadelli.com/taming-difficult-clients-4-ways-protect-business-sanity/ (external link)

[2] https://www.brightlocal.com/2017/05/09/how-to-handle-difficult-clients/ (external link)

[3] https://www.brightlocal.com/2017/05/09/how-to-handle-difficult-clients/ (external link)

[4] https://www.markeluk.com/articles/5-tips-for-handling-unhappy-clients (external link)

[5] https://blog.hubspot.com/service/how-to-deal-with-difficult-customers (external link)

[6] https://www.businessknowhow.com/marketing/difficult-customers.htm (external link)

At Hiscox, we want to help your small business thrive. Our blog has many articles you may find relevant and useful as your business grows. But these articles aren’t professional advice. So, to find out more on a subject we cover here, please seek professional assistance.

Hiscox Experts

The Hiscox Experts are leaders valued for their experience within the insurance industry. Their specialisms include areas such as professional indemnity and public liability, across industries including media, technology, and broader professional services. All content authored by the Hiscox Experts is in line with our editorial guidelines.