May 24, 2015


Client Love ›

Is the client always right? Dealing with clients who push you to the extreme.

Do you subscribe to the old adage that "the customer (or client) is always right"? My agency team and I had a recent client experience which forced us to challenge this notion.

I am used to dealing with difficult clients and difficult personalities - it's an accepted part of an Account Manager's job. I was not, however, prepared to deal with a person who conducted business in a somewhat "unhinged" manner. Let's call this person "Miss X".

We were asked by Miss X to prepare a suite of collateral for an upcoming event. The timeline was tight, but we agreed we could complete the work if certain parameters were met by both Miss X and our agency.

We knew that Miss X was opinionated, unpleasant, changeable, indecisive, abrupt and not afraid to speak her mind (remind you of other clients you know?). However, we released the fury of Pandora's Box when we presented a video concept that Miss X did not like. In exchange for meeting Miss X's brief and budget our account management and creative teams received verbal abuse to the point where Miss X made one of our team members cry. Unfortunately, this was the icing on the cake of similar (though less explosive) dealings with Miss X.

The Mother Bear in me wanted to protect my team from further abuse and kick this client to the curb immediately - project unfinished. However, I knew we needed to assess the situation as objectively [cough] as possible, so we called an emergency team meeting. 

Putting our incensed feelings aside, we asked ourselves some tough questions:

  • Had we (the agency team) done anything to inflame the situation?
  • Was our creative sub-standard (did we "deserve" all or part of the response we received)?
  • Could we have managed this client better through the creative process?
  • Could we have done a better job in creating realistic expectations?
  • What was this client worth to us in past and ongoing agency revenue?
  • What would be the cost (word of mouth and monetary) of aggravating Miss X by withdrawing our services with the project unfinished?

After our analysis we could see that the situation was neither clear-cut, nor all Miss X's fault. There were parts of the process that we could have handled better, but that still did not excuse the appalling and unjustified treatment that our team received.

We decided to finish the suite of collateral that we had promised to create. The consensus was that the potential for negative word of mouth was not worth jeopardising our reputation. Besides that, we wanted to make sure we got paid every cent that we were owed!

The revenue from this client is neither large nor regular. The jury is out whether we'll agree to work with this client again. If (and it is a big if) we did, we would radically change the way we worked with this client:

  • Constraints would be tighter.
  • Reverse briefs, quotes and timelines would be more detailed.
  • Client contact would be made by one senior-level Account Manager only (Miss X would not be allowed within 10 feet of any junior or creative staff).
  • We would request that we deal with another member of staff rather than Miss X.

Though it's a last resort, there will occasionally come a time when your customer/client is so objectionable that it's in your team's best interest to cut them loose. After all, our agency (unfortunately) doesn't get paid "danger money"!

Have you, or your colleagues, had any experiences with "extreme" clients?




Sarah Ritchie
Sarah Ritchie


Sarah Ritchie is the founder of AM-Insider - a website bursting with tips, tricks and resources to create account management superstars in the advertising, design, PR, experiential and print industries. Sarah has been involved in account management for 25 years and has a passion for encouraging, mentoring and helping others succeed.

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