#107: How to Handle Stressful (and Sensitive) Client Conversations With Grace

I don’t enjoy having difficult conversations with clients.

I bet you don’t either!

But just because it’s not a fun pastime doesn’t mean we should always avoid these conversations.

Very often the way to solve (or even avoid) big problems with clients is to do what we fear: confront the issues head on.

And to do that effectively and with confidence, you need to be prepared to handle these situations.

In this week’s show you’ll hear from Mele Williams. Mele specializes in writing scripts for sensitive business and personal conversations, such as delivering bad news and saying no.

She’s a real pro at this. And in this interview she shares some very practical techniques for handling these difficult situations with grace.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe to this podcast series in iTunes.

Tell us about yourself

Mele Williams specializes in writing scripts for sensitive business and personal conversations, such as delivering bad news and saying no.

Before moving into her freelance career, she practiced law and presented seminars on legal topics and workplace communications. Her freelance practice developed out of these seminars, where clients kept asking her what to say and how to say it.

Describe your typical corporate client engagement

Mele starts by finding out the goal of the difficult conversation. Then, she determines the communication styles of both her client and the other conversation participant.

Next, she gives her client a list of talking points and a script. Then, they work together to develop a list of objections, and she develops scripts for those objections.

Take us through some common stressful client conversations

#1: When you’re worried about getting paid

E.g. A client’s invoice is due today, and you’re not sure you’ll get paid on time: “Your payment is due today, but before you send it in, I want to know if there’s anything else I can do for you.”

This script shows you value the client’s satisfaction while also finding out where you stand with payment.

E.g. If the client’s payment is late: “Your payment was due last xxx. I want to make sure you’re satisfied with your service.”

This script helps start the conversation.

E.g. Before sending an invoice: “I’m about to send our your invoice. But before I do, I want to know you’re satisfied with the product. If not, is there anything I can do for you?”

#2: When a client keeps changing the project scope

To talk to clients re: problems—provide proof, show appreciation and tell them what you want.

In other words, give them a “PAT” answer:

P – Proof. Provide three examples of the behavior. Review when and how the client has changed the scope.

A – Appreciate. Show you appreciate the client’s position. “Clients change their minds all the time when new creative ideas happen.”

T – Tell. Explain what you want with candor and diplomacy. “Let’s get the fine print out of the way. As you know, your contract says that if you change the scope for any reason, my fee will be xxx. But let’s discuss how you want to move forward. I’ll adjust my fee accordingly, and let’s get going in that new direction.”

#3: When a client repeatedly rejects your ideas

P – Proof. Review the ideas the client has rejected. “Let’s go over the ideas I presented in my email dated xxx.” “We’ve had # concept meetings.”

A – Appreciate. “You’ve been in this business for xxx, and you know it inside and out.”

T – Tell. “What I have is experience getting results. For example, xxx.” Draw similarities between your experience and the client’s industry. “So how about we try some of my ideas, and if we need to adjust, we’ll adjust.”

#4: When you want to prove yourself to prospects, without sounding rude or whiny

Talk about your accomplishments and qualifications. Quantify them if possible. “I saved my client $$.” “I generated ## leads last month.”

#5: When you need to make yourself more relatable or likeable

Draw parallels between you and your audience. Use your personal life. We all have experiences and stories we can draw on.

How can we stay calm and stick with the script when having these conversations?

When a conversation with a client isn’t going well, stop talking and start asking questions.

This gives you time to calm down.

“Tell me what you didn’t like about that last idea. Obviously, it was something significant.”

“You ran the copy past your marketing team. What were some of the team’s objections?”

If someone is losing his/her temper: “Something you said really got me thinking….” Then “Here are my suggestions…” or “Here’s what I think….”

Where can listeners learn more about you?

Melzetta Williams’ website: Thediplomaticscribe.com