Working as a product owner on many international ecommerce projects with different clients and development teams over the past few years, I always enjoyed more challenging clients. Not everyone loves these kinds of challenges though, so here are my tips about how to best handle them.

  • Leave emotion outside the door. More often than not, there are situations in difficult projects where the client gets emotional and attacks with rude words or in an inappropriate tone. My technique is to completely disregard the emotional part of the message, strip it down to the actual issue and only react only to that when proposing a solution.
  • Win the trust of the client. Many of my clients had a negative attitude to start. They had already spent alot of time and/or money on their ecommerce solution but failed. First I had to prove to them through actions that they were finally in good hands, I understood what they need and had a professional team to make that happen. Doing a code review of an existing site or a small pilot project for the new one are effective tools to win trust and showcase the quality you will deliver.
  • Be honest and open. Everyone makes mistakes and the first instinct is to hide or blame them on someone else. My tactic is to openly tell the client if the team or I made a mistake and to offer a solution in return. In the majority of cases, this strategy is very much appreciated. The ultimate goal is to successfully finish the project together. Honesty and openness wins trust and the client will also be more forthcoming when he realizes his own mistakes.
  • Clarify expectations and goals from the very beginning. Have them in writing. Scope will most likely change over the course of the project. This is not a problem but writing down expectations and goals from the very beginning gives both parties an accurate baseline to start from.
  • Drive the conversation with the client. Don’t be afraid to interrupt the client if they go into a direction which doesn’t help the project. Make notes and summarize with your own words, what you understand about their problem to make sure you are on the same page. Try not to go into too much detail about solutions unless the client is very technical. Talk about general and easily understood goals.
  • Be very precise and articulate clearly via written communication. Don’t use alot of colors. Use paragraphs to separate topics and if you ask questions, number them. Most clients don’t answer all the questions, so you can just do another round and remind them to reply to the remaining ones too.
  • Never send an email without re-reading it. While you read it again and correct typos, make the most important words, dates, statements bold, so even if the client is not reading the full email, they see at one glance what it is about and the most important message. Don’t forget the subject, make it count.
  • Understand your team members. It always proved useful to me to know the strengths and weaknesses of the people I’m working with. Even small things matter. Who is more efficient in the morning, who in the afternoon or evening? Who is taking criticism well? Which developer can I let talk to the client, which rather not?
  • Take the time to truly understand issues. Don’t be a proxy between client and team. Take your time to understand what the client needs, ask questions, solve issues yourself if possible. Same if your team has questions for the client. In many cases, you will be able to answer questions yourself or at least be able to ask more specific information from the client.