What to do when your clients don’t respond

Ever worked with a client that seems all gung ho when you start the project … but as time goes on they seem to become increasingly unresponsive?

They don’t reply to your email. You figure their busy so you hold off for a week and then email them again. Figuring something must be going on, you call your client to check in and see if everything is okay. You get their voicemail. You leave a message, yet 5 days later you still haven’t heard from them.

Consulting Client – True Story
Sounds almost like I’m scripting this … in fact, I am. I had this exact situation happen 3 years ago with a client.

You’re probably wondering how this story ended? Don’t worry, I’ll tell ya. But first let’s talk about how you need to deal with a situation like this.

It’s clear you’re going to want to avoid coming across as a pest. I mean you don’t want to come off as always bothering your client. They’re busy, right. In most cases, your client won’t be intentionally putting you off. Sure, they got your email and voicemail, but it’s not that they want to cause you any stress.

They’re Not After You
8 times out of 10, your client will just be busy with their everyday work. The reason they’re not getting back to you right away is usually because you’re asking them to do more work.

You may have asked them to schedule a meeting – but they don’t know their schedule yet so they leave it. Or, your request for them to review materials gives them more work to do, so rather than tell you they haven’t had time to look at them, they just ‘buy more time’ and hold off getting in touch.

I’ve had clients that were simply unorganized. They were likely born loving clutter and disorganization. So sporadic replies were normal for them.

Why I Felt Bad
But what are you supposed to do about this? In my case, I felt bad. Why? Because I was receiving money from this client on a monthly retainer. If they didn’t reply, it meant we couldn’t move forward with our work, but they had already paid me for that month – so in effect they were paying me for work I couldn’t do…but I couldn’t do it because they wouldn’t reply.

I was keeping room for them in my schedule and turning down other potential business, so I couldn’t not charge them. In some cases, I’ve been flexible on this and shifted the date of the next invoice, but you don’t want to make a habit of this.

What you need to do in these cases is get in touch with your client as soon as possible and schedule a meeting. The first item of that meeting is for you to express your concern.

You simply need to be honest with your client and tell them that you’re doing everything you can, you recognize that they are busy, but you can’t deliver the full results you’d like to if they aren’t able to respond quickly.

How the Story Ended
Back to my story now. I finally heard back from my client, about 2.5 weeks after I first contacted her. She said she was just busy, but would love to get together. When we did, I laid out my concerns and reviewed what we were accomplishing. To my surprise, she was totally fine with the speed we were moving at.

I wasn’t happy, I wanted to get more done. But she didn’t. The slow and steady pace is what she wanted. She understood that more could be done within what she was paying me, but she was fine with things the way they were.

This was a cultural adjustment for me. I wasn’t used to doing things that way. But ultimately, I recognized that that was her style and as long as she was happy with the results and progress we were making, I could learn to work with her style.

A happy ending, yes. But it’s not always going to be the case. If your client continuously puts you off, and then comes down on you hard about less-than satisfactory results, you either have to sit your client down and tell them what’s really going on, or explain to them that you’re doing your keep up your end of the bargain – they need to keep up theirs. If they can’t, it’s probably best to end the project there – it’s really not worth the stress of working with someone that you can’t stand and shows no signs of attempting to improve.

I hope this example gives you some ideas of how to deal with clients when they are slow to respond. As in all client interactions, put your cards on the table and be brutally honest – that’s what they’re paying you for, and it’s worked just fine for me.

Let me know if you have other client related questions in the comments below.

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  • Good one Mike because this to me is also a challenge but I think the mindset has to come that if the client is happy to work at a slower pace then we should be happy to oblige, besides there are always other clients who require a faster pace. I just get so frustrated, because I know that once the system is implemented the client will have so more time available to him. If only they could see that.

  • Hester – thanks for the comment. My take on it is that working at a slower pace (or a faster one) can be fine as long as the client has been told of the potential benefits or disadvantages of doing so. You’re right, it can be frustrating.

  • I have a similar experience of having an unorganized client, he never wanted to respond to emails, calls, skype, and always ask me to wait and wait. I have shared my concern with him, however, he acts same as usual. However, he did not want to have slow pace, he want to accomplish thing quicker, but I just couldn’t make deicision for him. He is the CEO of the company, and he in charge of everything. In result, he seems not happy with the result from my consultant, as seems not much progress.. I just felt like not fair on this, why? coz I have done all works in my side, just wait for he decision, then all can move forward and complete. But obviously, he had no respond, and nothing can move forward. Then the agreement with this client has ended in a not good situation, as he is not a satisfy client that I have.

    • Belsa – you can’t please everyone in life. When situations like this come up the best course of action is always to speak to the client directly about the concern and have them verbally and then in a follow up email confirm that they understand what’s going on.

      At times like these it’s a smart move to also come prepared with suggestions (concrete ones) of how the situation can be improved.

      Take it as a learning experience and if you did your part don’t spend too much time worrying about that client.

  • Sarika

    both the parties should communicate with each other in order to understand the quality of work or product. One cant take blind decision on anything. If the client is interested in our dealing they will definitely get back to us.

  • linnfried

    sounds familiar to me. as a typical german i’d say: typical dutch. ;8)

  • George Fonzari

    I am trying to establish if my contact is the decision maker & if not can he direct me to the person who is, I have sent 3 mails & still no reply. what do you think I should do.