“After all I did for that client, they called me up and threatened not to pay my bill. I didn’t even charge them my full fee!” says Paul, a graphic artist.
“This client asked me to do the impossible,” tells Janet, a realtor. "We found a way to do it, but they never stopped complaining!”
“I don’t like to come to the phone when this client calls. They try to negotiate our prices, and ask us to do extra work. I don’t like to say no, but I wish I could tell them to take their business elsewhere,” says Joan, owner of a print shop.
But that’s exactly what Joan, Janet, and Paul should do with these impossible to please clients – politely tell them to use someone else’s services.
We Aim to Please... Even When We Shouldn't
When we started our businesses, most of us figured we’d have to take any client that wants us. We weren’t thinking about turning people away. But that attitude of accepting all prospects can be harmful to your business.
Do you need to challenge this myth?
Myth: Growing a business means that you answer the phone hoping to convert every caller to a client.
Truth: Growing a business means that you define who you want to serve, and who is the best match for your services/products. Then you focus on that target market.
There’s a book called, Thank you for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing With Difficult People by Mark I. Rosen. This might be one way to work on yourself, but this is not how you should run your business.
- You don't have to put up with difficult people
- You can work with terrific people you like and who appreciate you
- If this hasn’t convinced you, remember that people that complain about you can really hurt your business
How Difficult Clients Can Hurt Your Business
- They can burn you, and your staff, out
- They are likely to tell their friends and colleagues bad things about you and your business
- They’ll frustrate your employees
- They’ll contribute to you losing focus on your target market/core business
What to Do with Clients from Hell
Once you’re able to pick out those clients and prospects who cause you grief with too little payback, you’re ready to construct a strategy for:
A) Getting rid of them, and
B) Avoiding allowing more like them into your business life
A) tips for getting rid of clients from hell
- Be polite but firm. You may have to negotiate in the short-term to finish up their work so you can get rid of them. But don’t negotiate whether they get to stay -- they will take advantage of any flexibility.
- Figure out what they want if possible. (Some clients don’t know what they want, so this isn’t always easy to do.)
If you can do this, use that information to explain why you need to let them go from THEIR point of view (e.g., “We aren’t a big enough company to meet your need to have custom service at the lowest prices... please call xyz company for that.” Or, “I won’t be able to get your order out when you’re asking for it. I can get it done by next week, or you can go to abc company who can get it out much faster than I can.”)
This reminds me of how you would talk to a toddler... give them choices, but you control the choices -- and they are both options that get them out of your life in the very near future without them throwing a tantrum, with any luck!
- Don’t let them back in once you’ve gotten rid of them! (Read again, if necessary.)
B) tips for avoiding allowing more like them into your business life
- List all of your clients from hell.
- Write about how they drain you, your staff, your resources, etc.
- Write about the first small (or big) clues you had that they’d be difficult.
- Make notes about how you will spot these kinds of clients much earlier next time and why you need to avoid them.
- Highlight the important clues and think about why you didn’t see them at first.
- If you need to, put up some key phrases about what you’ve learned on your wall, near your phone, or where you will see them when you might be tempted again... (dramatic music gets louder)
...to allow another CLIENT FROM HELL into your life!