In Association with 'The Recruiter Index'

Written By Chris Hart

Dealing with Difficult Clients...And How To Manage Them.

If you’ve ever read up or done any research into this subject yourself before then you’ve probably seen that most articles will always blame the Consultant and it can never be the clients fault. I disagree, I think that is a pretty old school way of thinking. But if you don’t do anything about it then you aren’t helping the situation.

At some point or another in your career you will work with a ‘difficult client’ it’s inevitable, it happens to all of us. When I say ‘difficult’ I mean the clients that take days if not weeks to feedback on a CV, cancel roles that were a priority a week ago, don’t call candidates that are booked in for a phone interview, take days to feedback on an interview or not at all, low ball offers etc. etc. It doesn’t mean you won’t make placements with them they just might make you work a bit harder for it.

Everything I Do, I Do It For You.

I bet you never thought you could link Bryan Adams and recruitment, did you? But old Mr Adam’s does have a point, everything we do in this job is for a client, whether it’s directly or indirectly, every aspect of our job no matter what we are doing is for our client’s benefit. Whether you are a Resourcer, a 360 Consultant, BD or an Account Manager everything you do is client related. And we work pretty long and busy days, so that’s a lot of our time spent serving our clients. Which is why we need to spend it wisely. That doesn’t mean ignore and dump all the clients you don’t quite get on with, it means you might want to put some plans in place to start fixing the issues with the ones you don’t.

The first thing you need to do is identify the good from the bad, sounds obvious right? But your opinion might be different to mine and the issues you have may be different to mine. On that note if any of my clients are reading this, I love you all and this isn’t about any of you.

Good From Bad, How Do You Decide Who’s Who?

Placements are always a good starting point, are you actually making any placements? In fact that should be are you making enough placements? Are you making enough placements to justify the time you spend on said client? This might sound really obvious but people look past this all the time, as soon as one placement is made it’s all forgotten about and everything is all forgiven. But if you are sending a ton of CV’s to a role before you make a placement and the client never picks up the phone, then something is wrong. You think about how much time you spend finding and qualifying candidates to send to this client, then how much time you spend getting them prepared for the different interviews they’ll have. All that time from you and your team, which adds up, for one placement after god knows how many CV’s. And let’s assume this is a client issue, let’s stick with the theme and it’s not a Consultant issue. Is it worth it?

And it’s easy to get blinded by the client’s market reputation if they are a massive investment bank or famous technology company for example. But if you are sending tons of CV’s and not getting the feedback, or losing candidates because the client is taking too long or low balling then you need to evaluate this. Forget about how good it sounds to say you work with ‘such and such’ a client and look at things objectively.

It’s All In The Numbers.

The best thing to do is look over your ratios for the time you have been working with the client. Step back and put your business hat on. How many CV’s to interview? How many interview’s to placements? How many candidates have we lost? How many offers have been rejected? How many hours have been spent on said client? How many times have they changed the role? How many roles have been cancelled? How many roles have you had and how many have you filled? You can’t improve anything unless you know where the problem is. Write this stuff down, document it, list the problems. Then do exactly the same with a good client and compare the difference, see if there are any obvious gaps, come up with a scoring system if it will help. Once you’ve done this you can plan accordingly.

But what if you are making placements? Does that make them a good client? Well it depends. Are you happy to put up with the things that annoy you? If you are making placements then you are in a good position to have an honest and open conversation with your client. Too many people are scared to pull their clients up on the things that need improving. Especially if they are making placements with them. But to me this is the perfect scenario, you have clearly proved you are valuable to the client so why not use that advantage to clear the air on the things that need improving?

Ratios are always useful, and if you don’t ever look at them, then you need to. You need to understand the business cost to placement. If it’s costing too much money or time then you have a problem that you need to approach with the client. A real simple way to look at it is, your ideal worst case ratio is 6 CV’s for a placement. Any more than that then time spent starts to outweigh the return.

So How Do You Fix Things?

Honesty is the simple answer. As I said above, you need to tell your clients. Sometimes that might even mean telling them that you can’t work with them anymore. But this should be a last resort.

But before you do and once you’ve identified the problems and you’ve compared them to other clients. Review yourself and your team first, is there anything you can do to help the situation? Even if the client is just really difficult and it lies 100% with them, look to see if there’s anything you can do to help make the change. We do provide a service after all.

When you do speak with the client which you 100% must do, go in and see them, don’t do it over the phone, go and see them. They’ll appreciate it. But you need to approach it the right way. You can’t go in there fingers pointing and blaming. You can’t just say they are taking too long, it’s argumentative. You need to be collaborative. Don’t forget this is their brand, yes they will be protective, but if you approach it in an honest way then they will appreciate it, the last thing any client wants is a bad name in the market and not just with candidates but with us too.

But Before You Do

You need to provide solutions to the problems you’ve found. Don’t just reel off a list of issues and say ‘whatchya gonna do about it?’ Remember you need to go with the approach that you are working together on this. So for example, if they are slow with CV feedback, then put a weekly call in their diary to catch up. If they are slow with interview feedback, start making it your process to go the clients office straight after and ask them to debrief you. If you are sending 10 CV’s and all are getting rejected, well then that is probably all on you. But are you requalifying the role? Are you tech testing the candidates before they go across? Have you asked the client if there’s any particular tech questions you can use to rule people out? If they just never pick up the phone, then send a blunt, but polite email telling them that it’s difficult to help them when they don’t talk to you.

All clients take up your time, so if you are not trying to fix the issue and just moaning about it then you are wasting your own time. Have a look at your clients now or over the next few days and whatever systems you use, run some reports, identify the issues, write down the things that bother you that you want to fix and come up with a couple of suggestions for each. You won’t fix everything overnight, so set some goals over the next few weeks and months of the things you want to fix. Set reminder’s each day, put the tasks on your to do. If it’s a client you can make money with then it’s worth the effort to try and fix the issues.