You and your client are hitting it off and completing tasks on time, and then out of nowhere, the client goes dark. What do you do?

Dealing with an unresponsive client is a problem every agency faces at some point or another. It can be frustrating to miss deadlines or payments because you’re suddenly not getting any responses from your client.

Here are four ways to handle (and avoid) unresponsive clients and get your projects back on schedule.

1. Establish a clear communication plan from the start

Avoid unresponsive clients by agreeing on how you will communicate with each other from the start.

Ask your clients if they use any communication tools internally, such as Slack or Hipchat, and request to join them. If they don’t have any communication tools in place, then make sure you also have their email and phone number in case they suddenly stop responding on your primary channel of communication.

Establishing a backup communication plan at the beginning of a project is crucial in case clients go dark. Ask your clients what would be the best way to move forward on a project if you don’t hear back from them.

For instance, is there someone else on the team you can contact? Or if you don’t receive a response after a certain number days, can your team move forward without them?

You might not have the luxury of waiting around for responses with time-sensitive projects, so be sure to have at least one other point of contact in case your client gives you the silent treatment.

Setting expectations and having an agreed upon plan of action in place will help eliminate any issues before they arise.

2. Understand your clients’ schedules

Getting a sense of what your clients’ weekly schedules look like can help your team set reasonable deadlines and deliverable dates.

If you’re unable to discuss this at the beginning of a campaign, then try to get this information from them on a weekly or monthly basis (depending on your workload), so you can anticipate any scheduling issues beforehand.

Knowing what your clients’ day-to-day schedules look like will help your team understand the best times to communicate with them, when they should expect responses, and after how much time it’s okay to send any follow-ups.

3. Change how you present deadlines

If you need your clients’ feedback on multiple tasks, it’s best to prioritize the deadlines and be clear about which tasks are the most important. If they are going to forget to respond to a task, it might as well be a less important task.

If you are having problems getting clients to respond on time, try presenting deadlines using a number of days, rather than a calendar date.

For example, instead of saying, “Can you look at this by Friday, March 13th?” reword the request as, “Three days after we receive confirmation on X, we can deliver Y.”

This will help your clients visualize the project as a whole. It explains what you need from them in order to move forward with the next step, and how their unresponsiveness might delay the overall project.

4. Follow up

Your clients are busy people and the modern inbox is noisy and crowded. One statistic shows that the average office worker receives 121 emails per day. That’s a lot of emails, and sometimes it’s going to take persistence to get a response.

Don’t be afraid to send follow up messages if you haven’t heard back from your clients in a reasonable (or ideally, predefined) amount of time. We often find it takes two emails before clients respond.

When it’s time to move on

If a client is completely unresponsive after multiple attempts to communicate with them via multiple channels, then it may be time to let them go.

Obsessing over their unresponsiveness can be unproductive and your team’s time and energy could be better spent elsewhere. Set a strict timeline for when you expect a response, and when that time passes, move on.

The best way to handle client unresponsiveness is to outline your communication expectations beforehand so your team can prevent it from happening in the first place.

However, when it does happen, follow these tips to keep your projects moving forward and maintain happy client-agency relationships.