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Broker insights: How to work with challenging clients

Dec 13, 2018

how_to_handle_the_first_meeting_with_a_client__ts-2This month, we’ve been looking at ways to keep clients happyno matter how difficult they (or the particular deal) may be. We also reached out to brokers to ask how they deal with challenging clients or situations, and this is what they had to say:

 Avoid problem clients before they become a problem

“I do my best to avoid problem clients before I start working with them,” says David Haug, president and managing broker at Lighthouse Commercial Real Estate.

He can often tell from the very first conversation whether a client is going to be difficult or not. “You can tell if they’re more focused on what they have to pay in commission, and if they will treat you like a commodity, or if they actually value you as a broker.”

"My best clients are those who see tremendous value in the services I provide them,” Haug says. “I usually ask my potential clients about their past agency experiences. During that discussion, I ask what they didn’t like or how things could have gone smoother. Oftentimes, that tells me exactly what to expect if I take them on as a client.”

For him, some of the most challenging clients are those who believe they know everything. “As they say, It is what you don’t know, that you don’t know, that can really hurt you.’ An expert has the experience to guide clients through these difficult areas. If my client thinks she knows everything already, then she is less likely to take my advice. She will just do things her way. During complex commercial negotiations, this can create issues,” Haug says.

“Contrast that with someone who says, ‘You know what? I’ve been doing this for a long time and I still don’t know everything: I can see that you have the expertise I need and I’d love to have your assistance.’” 

Communicate, communicate, communicate

“The thing we do the most is communicate,” says Mathew Laborde of  Elifin Realty. “When going after a listing we communicate where the market is, what they can expect in terms of marketing time and values, and what they can expect us to do to get their property sold or leased. Once we get the listing, we communicate the actions we've taken and the feedback we've received from the market.”

“The key to all clients is communication,” Laborde says. “And the most challenging clients are typically that way because they don't feel like they're being communicated with enough.”

Haug also says that communication is essential, as is figuring out how people like to communicate. “Do they prefer personal meetings, emails, phone calls, texts? Do they like to stay in touch strictly between 9-5, or do they expect updates at 10 o’clock at night? Different people have different expectations, so you don’t want to make assumptions.”

Frequency of communication also matters, Haug notes. “If someone feels like they are informed consistently and have everything they need, they’ll be less stressed themselves, and they’ll be an easier client.”

“That’s why it’s important to tell them up front, ‘These are the things I’ll do for you and how I’ll keep you informed of progress along the way,’” Haug says. “Anything that you can show them before you start working also helps. For example, I’ll show them what our property reports look like, what our letters of intent look like, and talk about how we negotiate.”

Finally, Haug advises, “It’s critical to set expectations about who does what. Some clients tend to want to take action themselves. But if they’re calling other listing agents or property owners, for example, that can create confusion and conflict.”

In the end, Haug says, everything comes back to communication. “Communication ensures both parties are on the same page at all times: pretty much every relationship in life is improved with better communication.”[

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Irena Ashcraft

Written by Irena Ashcraft

Irena is a freelance writer who works with innovators, educators, explorers, and changemakers. From brave nonprofits to frontier-straddling startups, she helps clients connect with their biggest fans through writing that's fresh, relatable, and fun.

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