NYIAD Wedding and Event Planning Instructor Sandra Serrant has been an Events Professional for over a decade. She has planned, coordinated and executed a variety of events ranging from multi-day national conferences and fundraisers to large weddings, galas and other social events.
She has worked with such organizations as the National Football League and American Diabetes Association; and has also served as the Head of Events for renowned international Chef Jose Andres, as well as planned events for Wolfgang Puck Catering. In addition to her many national events here in the U.S, she continues to plan events abroad. Check out Sandra’s latest blog post about the events industry. Enjoy!
So you had the pleasure of having to deal with a difficult client (I hope you hear the sarcasm). Maybe your Bride wants a champagne wedding with a beer budget. Maybe your Gala Chairperson just upped the ante by inviting more guests than can fit in the ballroom. Or maybe the Host for your Memorial Day event wants to change the location of her holiday BBQ with just 3 days to go. There are many types of difficult Clients (from the ‘Know-it-Alls’ and ‘Never Happy’, to the Type AAA and Price Hagglers). But remember that your job as a Planner is to…what class…make your client happy. Working with difficult clients is part of this business; and managing difficult situations is a must. 90% of your Clients might be absolutely lovely people to work with, but you must be prepared for that 10% who will be difficult. Once you realize your Client is unhappy, it’s time to put on your customer service cape and jump into action. But you should be smart about it. Below are some suggestions for navigating the waves your client might cause:
1. This first tidbit is in an attempt to AVOID an angry Client. Set ground rules early in the process. This will protect you (and your sanity) while you’re in the throes of planning their event. That difficult Bride who wants an hour-long calls on Sunday afternoons or that corporate client who expects an immediate response to the barrage of emails he sent at midnight … they will understand that you have ‘work hours’ (semblance of one) if you make it clear up front. Also, it gives you the right to drop the “well, per our contract I am not available on Sundays” line or the “per our agreement last month….”
2. Listen. Actively listen to the Client’s concerns. Before you agree or disagree, be sure to know exactly what the issues are and why the Client is demanding certain things from you. Don’t forget to show empathy while you’re listening. It’s hard to be empathetic with someone who has sent you angry emails. But it’s important that the Client knows that you understand. The best way to do this, is to follow up your discussion with an email to your client which list the issues and solutions you discussed.
3. Solutions, Solutions, Solutions. Once you understand your client’s issue, propose a few solutions. As a Planner, you already know the importance of having a Plan B. Sometimes difficult Clients will not take your suggestions at face value. So be prepared to explain WHY your solutions are good options for their issue.
4. Be polite, but FIRM. Is the venue unwavering on their F&B minimum and your client wants you to continue haggling this cost for 2 months? Be firm with your client about expectations and what is/not doable. Most difficult Clients will tend to respect you and follow your lead if you show that you’re not a pushover.
5. Get it in Writing. Hopefully your client is happy with one of your solutions. Be sure that your client signs off on the final decision (especially if it’s a solution you do not support). This way, if things fall apart, your client’s decisions will be documented
6. Anticipate your Client’s needs. No, we do not read minds (although some clients think we have this superpower). But sometimes your Client might become difficult because they had certain expectations of you. If you ask the right questions early on, expectations can be made crystal clear!