Bad Client Series : The Pest

Bad Client Series : The Pest

The Pest disturbs … a lot

Today I will be talking another kind of bad client, I call The Pest.

I get it that clients need to get some level of support and hand-holding to get the hang of your project deliverables.

These ones just love to send emails for the sake of sending emails, would phone you several times a day just to see how things are going, and want you to physically meet regularly for some good ‘ol chit-chat.

What this implies is that you will spend a lot of time answering calls, sending emails, communicating and not getting meaningful work done.

They don’t understand that you are NOT doing only their work but that other clients work would suffer as you spend unreasonable amounts of time just talking.

Here is a story I found on that clearly illustrates my point :

I work as a consultant for a few small nonprofits (that is, I’m not an employee and I work remotely). For a variety of reasons, I prefer to conduct most business via email. In the first place, for the work I do, I like having a written record of discussions, decisions, etc. Beyond that, I find the phone jarring, intrusive, and distracting and it’s difficult to actually get work done when your phone is ringing off of the hook. I even have my voicemail message set suggesting people email me instead of calling for a faster reply, as I pretty much respond instantly to emails (and if I can’t reply right away I put up an auto reply letting people know I will write back later). I also proofread my emails for thoroughness and clarity before sending them out. So, in short, I’m really good with the email.

Recently, the manager of one of the organizations I work for retired. She and I worked together for several years and our communications styles matched in that we both generally preferred using email over the phone for most things (except for calls we’d plan in advance or in extreme emergencies).

The organization’s new manager has taken to calling me multiple times a day to “check in” on things that I’ve already emailed him updates about, or on things we agreed to follow up on later, pending additional info I’m still waiting for, etc. Other times, he will randomly call to have some big group discussion about something, without prior planning. Several times, that has happened when I was away from my desk and then it becomes an issue of where am I and when will I be able to call back, which means I need to get to my desk as soon as I can.

What’s more, he will leave these totally useless voicemails when I don’t answer, saying things like “Hi, it’s (name). Call me back.” I mean… if you’re going to leave a voice mail, at least SAY SOMETHING in the voice mail beyond that you just called, which I can already see based on the three missed calls I’ve had from you in the past 20 minutes.

In addition to being annoying and distracting, this dynamic of constant phone calls is really stressing me out. I’m a consultant, not an employee, which means that I’m not accountable to the org for my whereabouts and activities during the day so long as my work gets done (which it does) and this constant barrage of calls is making me feel chained to my desk and phone at all times. And believe me, they don’t pay me “chained to my desk” money. Beyond that, his numerous “check-ins” on items I am actively working on are making me feel hounded, nagged, and micromanaged.

My friend advised me to try to “train” the new manager in how to communicate with me by telling him “I’m not available by phone, but I will be available by email” and by responding immediately to all emails, but not answering my phone (or calling back immediately). I’ve tried this, but so far it hasn’t been working. If I don’t pick up, I can usually expect several more missed calls until I finally bite the bullet and call back. And the issues he’s calling about are never “emergencies.” I’ve also tried preempting calls at random times by offering times when I COULD be free and available to talk — i.e. “I am free to discuss this at 4pm” but that doesn’t seem to work either, as it will often prompt a phone call to confirm the 4pm phone call.

Anyway, this is making me crazy and the longer I let it continue, the harder it will be to make it stop. It’s to the point where he and I chat on the phone six, seven times in a single day. Are there more direct — but still professionally acceptable — way to tell him that he simply cannot call me so often?

How do you deal with this kind of client

At the beginning of your discussions with a typical pest listen closely for words or their previous experiences that sound like “my previous {name of freelancer} does not communicate regularly or often”.

Don’t overlook it and move on to discussing other aspects of the project. It will backfire. Ask questions and be sure that you agree on what ‘often’ means. Document it in your contracts template.

If you have accepted a project, you can still fix this problem though it most likely won’t be easy. Have a conversation with your client and discuss your availability with him or her. They need to know it so they don’t get offended and perceive you as a being too rigid.

Here are some useful steps you can take to keep your work time really productive:

  • Post your business hours.
  • Keep separate phone lines for business and private use.
  • Use a good voicemail service
  • Turn off your phone or keep it silent and away from you while you work

In a really bad situation where they refuse to stop and continue, you can either endure it and quickly finish up their project and let them go or if you can take it anymore find a way to politely and professionally end the contract.

I hope you found this article helpful.

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