How to Deal With an Overbearing Couple
Planning events for a living sounds like a a dream—picking food and décor, working with tons of different people, and spending your days at cool venues instead of behind a desk. But it takes more than just a love of a great party to succeed in this fast-paced field—you’ve got to have an eye for detail and an ability to handle constant deadlines, pressure and occasionally the demanding difficult client.
Even when everything is perfect (as it can be), the overbearing couple can make even a seasoned pro question their career choice. What we do as planners is to serve our clients to the best of our abilities and to provide them with every opportunity to have a stress-free memorable experience. That is a huge responsibility. For those who take that honor to heart, having an unreasonable VIP can absolutely take a huge toll on our ability to rise to the occasion.
Case in point, when I first started out I had a groom who, a few months into our planning process, proceeded to send me an excel spreadsheet of what my roles were, what tasks I was responsible for, and the deadline he wanted them done by. Not having enough confidence in my experience at that point, I went along with it. On the day of, he did not listen to any of my direction and it was a difficult day, to say the least.
Now a decade later I can spot these issues a mile away and have developed steps to keep the stress low and the outcome favorable for everyone.
Setting the ground work in your contract is the best place to define your working style. By having a clause in your agreement about what your expectations are of your clients, you have clearly defined for them behaviors that are expected in order to service them properly. This can include communication policies, like timing for information and respectful conduct.
Systems and Organization
One of your main roles is to keep your client organized through the planning process. Your system to do so is one reason someone should hire you! Don’t deviate from it. In other words don’t let someone tell YOU what YOUR job is or HOW you should be doing it! If you “worked” differently for all of your couples, something will surely fall through the cracks! The best defense in this occasion is to demonstrate your confidence in the way you work and the processes you have in place.
Address concerns directly
There will be a time when someone will take issue with something happening during their planning process. It may be that not enough people are booking their room block, it could be they are going over budget, it could be any number of things that someone will attribute to you for not guiding them correctly.
The first thing to also consider is that your client is under a lot of stress from a number of directions, so their anxiety may have nothing to do with what they seem to be upset with at the moment. Next, listen to them spill. Let them vent it all out—often just being “heard” will make a client feel better! Next, apologize. Not necessarily for what they are upset about, but that they have any extra stress at all because it’s your job to take that stress away. Now that the negative energy is diffused, clarify your role in the situation, and offer a solution.
For example, someone is going over budget and is now upset that money is going to be due that they did not plan on. Listen to their concerns, apologize for the extra stress, and relate to their budget worries. Now you can remind them that all along you have shown them options that would be in the budget, but other choices they liked more were made along the way. Then you could offer to make some tweaks to assist in the final amount due and help in any way you can, but in the end the choices are theirs to make.
Now that was an easy example, but you get the idea. The process never changes, just the content.
If all else fails, move on
It doesn’t serve you or the client to stay in partnership if it’s not working out. It’s a very emotional process, and a lot is at stake. While you are just starting out, it takes one bad event, one bad review, or worse-case scenario law suit to end it all! In the end, the best defense is offense. It might mean you make the move to terminate your agreement. It’s important to have clear terms in your agreement as to how you would handle a cancellation of services. Any seasoned pro will tell you they have done so, it’s all just a matter of time. We can’t all be the perfect planner for everyone, so it’s ok to admit when you might not be the best fit!
In the end, having challenging clients is part of the game. It will happen. But you can survive it, learn from it, and be a stronger business person because of it!