7 Surefire Ways to Annoy Your Clients

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



Most agency people can quickly rattle off a list of all the annoying, frustrating, and infuriating things clients do. Stories of clients provide most of the lighthearted fodder for conversations over 5:00 beers and late nights at the office. 

But as in most relationships, there are two sides to every story, and agencies can be just as guilty of annoying their clients. 

Read on to determine if you're making these common mistakes that frustrate your clients. 

7 Ways to Annoy Your Clients

1) Slow Response to Communication

There isn’t a defined rule in business on what the expectation should be for a response to an email or even a call. Some clients may expect an answer by the end of the day, while others consider 48 hours a reasonable response time.

For most, 24 to 48 hours is an acceptable timeframe, but this needs to be made clear to both the agency and client team. During the onboarding process and even at the start of a new project, the agency team should set guidelines about communication. The lack of communication about acceptable response times is what causes confusion, anxiety, and frustration. However, this should be a conversation. Ask the client if they think the timeframe is fair and if they can also adhere to it. Discuss your backup plan for when the client’s account manager is out of the office or unreachable. Who should they reach out to? Can they text the account manager after a certain hour in the day? Do you have a process for an urgent request?

But remember: Responsiveness in an age of email overload will stand out. Encourage your team to try to get back to the client as quickly as possible. It’s sometimes as simple as saying,” I got your email and am working to find the answer. I’ll be in touch shortly with an update.”

2) Not Listening to the Client

Good partnerships are built on trust, and to build trust, you need to not only prove your value but also show that you care about the client’s success, challenges, and problems.

You need to be as good about listening to the client as you are about delivering results. Being a good conversationalist is less about what you can interject at the opportune moment and more about how you make the person on the other side of the table feel when they are in conversation with you. The way you sit, your ability to make eye contact, affirmative nods, and the vocal confirmations you make all help the other person feel more comfortable. Ask questions, and listen more than you talk. Refrain from always providing your opinion. Make the client feel heard and understood. This will help you to build a better relationship, and you’ll learn a lot more about the client, her approach to business and marketing, and her brand.  

3) Acting Like You Know Everything

We’ve all met this type of person: She finds every opportunity to share her vast knowledge of a subject, challenge an assumption, and generally take over a conversation with her library of facts, stats, and examples.

It’s exhausting and irritating.

And it’s exactly the type of thing some agency people do when trying to impress a client. It’s also an attitude that is adopted when working with a client hasn’t studied marketing day in and day out for the past 10, 20, 40 years or is investing in newer tactics. Some people feel the need to showcase how much they know in an effort to gain trust.

There is a way to do this where you agency team members are teachers -- the type that help lead a client to a better understanding of a subject. There are also situations that are better suited to providing this information. In the end, it’s about attitude, tone, and the way you deliver the information.

4) Avoiding Difficult Conversations

Not many people want to deal with conflicts with clients. But what’s worse is working with people who avoid them all together. Clients will see this as a weakness on the part of your team, not to mention that an unresolved problem can lead to unrepairable breaks in the relationship.

Dealing with a problem by asking the right questions, opening a line of communication with the client, and working to resolve the issue or negotiate a solution will engender respect at the very least. Sometimes, it’s not about the problem but the way that you solve it that matters in the end.

5) Blaming Members of Your Team

When something goes wrong in the client relationship, it can be easy to place the blame on a member of your team. Yet, this is a weakness you should avoid with clients.

The client has her own goals to meet. She’s been in the position of trying to explain why a target wasn’t met or a launch date was moved back. And most likely, her CEO or sales director or another executive wasn’t satisfied with the blame game.

You are ultimately responsible for your team’s performance. Own this, and then move forward by figuring out how to move past the issue or solve the problem. It will build more credibility with the client than blaming someone else.

6) Talking in Gobbledygook

The marketing and advertising industry is known for its reliance on jargon and acronyms: CPM, CTR, API, CAC, CTV, CRM, KPI … not to mention our reliance on phrases such as growth hacker, innovation, omnichannel, multichannel, programmatic, real-time, retargeting, etc. Once you add in favored words such as paradigm, utilize, leverage, low-hanging fruit, storytelling, native, and transparency, it’s a wonder anyone can understand anything we have to say.

Don’t use an acronym unless you are sure the client completely understands it. Don’t be vague about an approach by using buzzwords. And don’t fill your writing with useless and confusing words that you would never utter in conversations with your friends. As Mark Twain said, “Don't use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.”

7) Missing Deadlines

This may be the most annoying and frustrating issue on this list. There are some instances where a missed deadline is avoidable, but I would argue that if you properly scoped the project, discussed the risks to delivering the project on time, and communicated on a regular basis throughout the project, you should never miss a deadline. You should know in advance that you won’t be able to deliver something on time and communicate this to the client, explain why, and adjust the deadline accordingly.

If you do miss a deadline, work to get the project delivered and the relationship back on track as quickly as possible.

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