Dealing with Unresponsive Clients: Strategies and Contract Clauses

Alfredo Ramirez

There are few things more frustrating than an unresponsive client. 

From our own experience and the experiences of our agency partners on Prosal, we’ve heard the stories. After a contract has been signed, a scope of work has been clearly defined, and even a few payments have been remitted, the client goes radio silent. No emails, phone calls, text messages - nada.

Disrupting everything from your project management and timeline of deliverables to your bottom line, unresponsive clients can be confounding and leave one at a loss for words. That is why it is essential to implement safeguards and proactively explore strategies to manage these situations. This blog explores the most effective strategies for managing unresponsive clients. It offers ideas around your contract language to protect your company's and workers' interests in such scenarios.

Effective Strategies for Managing Unresponsive Clients

Dealing with unresponsive clients—a common challenge in client services—requires effective strategies. Clients may become unresponsive intermittently or completely 'ghost' your communications. Understanding the reasons behind such behavior is crucial and can vary widely from simple cold feet to more complex internal challenges within the client's organization, like resource constraints, shifting priorities, or internal politics. By pinpointing these triggers, you can tailor your approach to re-engage them effectively.

While it may seem irrelevant, understanding the root cause can be vital to finding a resolution. In such cases, the best solution can be a proactive communications strategy and setting clear expectations with timelines and deadlines. This approach keeps projects on track and significantly reduces the likelihood of client ghosting, ensuring smoother project management and client relations.

1. Proactive Communication Strategies

Effective communication is essential in managing unresponsive clients and maintaining any successful professional relationship. Establishing a regular communication schedule, such as weekly or bi-weekly calls or virtual meetings on Zoom or Google Meets, ensures consistent check-ins between you and the client. These check-ins allow for more fluid conversations outside of the rigidity of email, offer opportunities for brainstorming and accountability, and ultimately help keep the project on track. Doing so can significantly reduce the chances of a client becoming unresponsive.

2. Setting Clear Expectations and Deadlines

Setting clear expectations from the onset is crucial, especially with clients prone to unresponsiveness. Clearly articulate what the client can expect regarding regular communications and deliverables and, equally important, what you expect from them. This mutual understanding helps prevent unresponsiveness by keeping both parties accountable. For example, design firms regularly offer concrete turnaround times on design updates and completions, assuming the client responds promptly (e.g., 1-2 business days). The same can be said of any work that requires client input and should be identified at the start of any engagement. 

Clearly outline the need for client input in your contract or scope of work. Specify that delays in client deliverables, such as approvals or feedback, can lead to project hold-ups. This clarity sets expectations from the start and provides a contractual basis for addressing delays.

3. Delivering Despite Non-Responsiveness

In cases where the client is paying but not responding, continue to deliver work as per the contract, so long as it doesn’t require client input. This also includes any regular updates, reporting, and documentation of progress related to your scope of work. This ensures you fulfill your contractual obligations and maintain professionalism, regardless of the client's behavior.

Contract Clauses and Engagement Tactics to Prevent Client Unresponsiveness

When a client's unresponsiveness severely impacts your project's performance or payment schedules, implementing strategic measures can be crucial. A reminder that this is not a substitute for legal or professional advice, and you should consult with a lawyer before enacting any contract updates or changes. Below, we explore several proactive strategies and contract clauses designed to prevent and manage such challenges, ensuring your projects remain on track and financially secure.

1. Utilizing Technology for Engagement

When regular communications fail, lean on a more innovative approach to elicit a response. Video platforms like Sendspark create a video that details a deliverable or even offers a brief update that can be viewed at the client’s convenience. This method can sometimes elicit responses when emails or calls fail, adding a personal and engaging touch to your communication. Moreover, most of these platforms allow you to track detailed viewing history to see who watched your video at what point and for how long.

2. Incorporating a 'Ghosting Clause'

To safeguard against unresponsiveness, consider adding a 'ghosting clause' to your contracts. This clause can stipulate that if a client is unresponsive for a specified period (e.g., 30 days), a fee will be charged for the time spent attempting to reach them. This approach encourages clients to maintain communication and compensates you for the time lost in follow-ups.

3. Implementing a Project Hold and Restart Fee

Another contract clause that can offer a stricter enforcement mechanism and motivate clients to maintain communications allows you to put the project on hold if client deliverables are delayed beyond a certain point. A restart fee can be implemented to resume the project once the client is ready to re-engage. This approach protects your schedule and emphasizes the importance of timely client participation. You can check out examples of restart fee clauses here.

4. Drafting a Countdown Communication

If you are nearing the end of a contract with minimal client interaction, send a countdown communication. This message should outline what you will complete by the contract's end date and what requires their input. Clearly state that any work beyond this scope will incur additional charges or need a new contract.

Closing Thoughts: Reflect & Grow

Dealing with unresponsive clients is a challenge that requires a balanced approach of understanding, clear communication, and contractual safeguards. By implementing these strategies and incorporating specific clauses into your contracts, you can protect your business interests and maintain project momentum. 

Each unresponsive client situation is a learning opportunity. For any effective or ineffective strategy or engagement, always reflect on your experience with your team so you can continually refine your client communication strategies and contract terms for future engagements.

Remember, while you can't control client behavior, you can control how you manage and respond to it, turning a potentially harmful experience into an opportunity for professional growth and improvement. For more insights and practical tips, check out our other blog posts on effective client management and business strategies.


Alfredo Ramirez

Alfredo is the COO and Co-Founder of Prosal. He has over ten years of experience working in the nonprofit industry and previously founded a successful digital strategies business, winning over $2 million in RFPs throughout his career. He is an avid mountain biker and snowboarder and enjoys anything that takes him outdoors.

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