How to Handle Unrealistic Client Requests: Learn How to Say No

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In the retail sector, many companies place an emphasis on customer service. They push their employees to please their customers no matter what the cost. Unsurprisingly, this is also an industry that teaches that the “customer is always right.”

I mastered this way of thinking after working in the retail industry for most of my young life.

But when I went to transfer this customer-focused mindset to my post-grad agency jobs, I was hit with a harsh reality: keeping up with this “yes” mentality is the most counterproductive thing you can do.

As a growing agency, you’re inevitably going to have clients who try to creep out of the scope of work. At first it may seem as if you’re simply doing them a favor by trying to provide the best service possible.

However, it’s not always a good idea to cater to each and every customer request. Tasks such as adding a simple plugin to a site can turn a five-minute job into a four-hour fix. Most growing agencies face this predicament all the time.

Although you may not be able to predict issues of that nature, you can always learn how to manage these unrealistic requests that tend to pop up.

Because even though these requests may seem tiny, they never seem to stay small. In fact, they tend to be the most problematic. These are the kind of requests that suck up manpower and time in the blink of an eye.

A multitude of tiny requests hurts your bottom line in the long run.

This situation is so common and it can snowball rather quickly. So today we’ll be showing you how to handle unrealistic client requests they put a drain on your business.

Let’s get started.

Clearly Outline Your Project’s Scope of Work

In our article, How to Set (Realistic) Expectations with a New Client, we talked about how important it is to clearly explain your project’s scope of work before the contract is ever signed.

You’ll also want to communicate early and often with your client to ensure that both of you are on the same page throughout the entire process. This is considered providing exceptional customer service. Saying yes to every request—although it may seem as if you’re providing great customer service—is not.

Client requests pop up all too often, especially with work that was never agreed upon in the initial contract. On the one hand, you don’t want to appear as if you don’t care about their requests, but you also can’t say yes to everything or you’ll be out of business pretty quickly.

That’s why it’s imperative that your project scope is clearly defined. Whenever these demands pop up, all you have to do is refer back to the project’s scope of work. This makes it easier to say no.

In the nicest way possible, let your client know that their request doesn’t fall under the project’s scope of work and cannot be done at that time.

You don’t have to end it there; inform your customer that you’d be happy to help with their request once the initial project is finished. This simple move also ensures that you have a steady stream of work lined up with your customers.

As you start to wrap up your project, remind your customer about what’s next on the docket (i.e. those changes they wanted mid-project). Make sure to keep a running tally so you don’t forget exactly what they wanted.

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Stand Firm & Add a Clause in Your Contract

It can be hard to say no to a client—especially if it’s one of your best customers—but you just have to stand firm.

Adding a clause in the contract that specifically pertains to out-of-scope requests makes this process a little easier.

In essence, you want to let your client know that in order to keep things on schedule, all out-of-scope requests (and I mean everything) will be added to a new project list and will be worked on once the initial project is completed.

Clients are usually receptive to this way of putting things because no one wants to be behind schedule in this industry where everything is deadline driven.

You also want to make it clear in this clause that these new additions will cost your client extra. After all, you’ll still be paying your employees to complete these tasks, so why should a five-hour job turn into a freebie?

By having this clause in your contract, it’s a bit easier to stand firm whenever an unrealistic request comes up.

On the other hand, if this is not clearly stated (and explained) during your kick off meeting, you may end up losing several billable hours which will cost you both time and money.

Something Has to Give

While these strategies may prove helpful for demanding clients, there will always be a select few who don’t care that they’ve signed a contract. They may have a hard deadline they need to adhere to so they’ll pressure you to get the work done regardless.

Now, these are not clients I’d recommend working with again, but in order to get paid, you may be stuck with them for now.

In these cases, you’ll have to sit your client down and explain that something has to give. This can be done in two ways:

Scenario A: To stay on schedule, an equivalent request must be removed from the project scope in order to fulfill the new request. And the task that was deleted will carry over to a new project to-do list, which the client will have to pay extra for.

Scenario B: Most clients will not want to “take away” anything from the original project at hand, so if you’re left with this option, an additional service charge (to cover the added time and resources) must be added. To keep things realistic, you should also re-negotiate a new deadline that you both can agree to. If the deadline cannot be changed, a rush fee should be charged.

No matter which case happens, both of these scenarios should be added to your clause that I mentioned earlier. If these options are clearly explained early on, the customer will be less likely to get upset.

What Happens When You Fulfill an Unrealistic Request?

Be careful about fulfilling unrealistic requests.

Once these demands are fulfilled as a courtesy, they will be much more likely to show up again in the form of additional changes (which are even harder to say no to). Unfortunately, this creates a vicious cycle where clients quickly take advantage of your services without even realizing they are doing so.

Stand firm and stick to your project’s scope of work before these tiny requests turn into a constant thing. Once your client realizes they can add on more demands without having to pay extra for them, they’ll expect it every time.

Re-negotiating your rates when these additional changes have always been free makes for a very challenging situation when it comes time to raise your rates.

Learn how to say no by creating contracts that clearly explain what happens with out-of-scope requests. This will save you countless headaches and keep all of your customers happy in the long run.

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