Right after tax season I posted a tongue-in-cheek apology to accountants on behalf of their problem clients.
We all have them. The question is… what do you do about them? The trend today is to “Fire” them. If you do a google search on “Problem Clients” you will find scores of self-appointed experts gleefully encouraging you to fire bad clients.
I submit to you that this is a TERRIBLE idea.
The key to being successful in business is to keep clients happy. Happy clients come back for more and recommend you to acquaintances.
Yes, some clients are unreasonably demanding and occasionally downright rude, but these clients can actually act as a powerful litmus test and actually help you refine your company’s products and processes on many levels.
For one thing… If you run your business as I do; on the presumption that customer service is the cornerstone of your business, then problem clients become your best test for success. Not only does meeting the challenge of problem clients test your meddle in maintaining client satisfaction, they are also often the first to find holes in products and services you offer. This gives you a unique opportunity to track the success of and refine your products and services.
Beyond this, however, firing clients is bad business.
At a glance, after “firing” a client it might seem as though you have just lost one client. Viewed under the cold light of reality, however, firing that client might harm your business far more than is visible to the naked eye.
Problem clients don’t just take their angst out on you. They talk to their own clients, associates, and friends, too. Many of them are perfectly reasonable, prospective clients.
Does this seem unreasonable?
A client you just fired goes on to tell his acquaintances of your actions- from his point of view. How do you think you are going to be perceived in this telling of the story? Is the problem client going to present himself as rude and unreasonably demanding, or is he going to blame you by portraying you as uncaring, selfish and greedy? I’ll wager that instead of being seen as a patient, trustworthy business easy to collaborate with, you will be presented as someone with whom to expect power struggles.
I actually find the term “Firing Clients” rather offensive at a very basic level. Firing clients basically conveys the idea that you have little regard for them or your relationship with them. As a result, existing clients get defensive and harder to cooperate with – and new clients become a rarity. So what should you do?
Rather than just ‘getting rid’ of them, you should see problem clients as a challenge. This does by no means imply you should give in to all their demands. It is actually better to say ‘no’ once in a while, especially when it comes to unreasonable clients. But there are ways to come to a better understanding and build good relationships with just about anyone.
To begin with, never approach clients under the assumption that they have no clue what they want, are unable to make decisions or are not as smart as you. While their expertise may be in different fields to yours, they have earned their right to be in decision making positions and deserve to be treated with respect.
Secondly, it is often easier to deal with and understand clients’ needs by learning about their business. Do some background research on their companies and ask them relevant questions. Your obvious interest will please them immensely and make them more open to your suggestions.
When offering solutions, less is more – too many options make decisions harder. Offer just a few choice options and explain why you believe a particular solution may be preferable. Knowing their expertise lies elsewhere, explain things without using fancy jargon. Instead, use their language and employ examples suitable to their reference frame without ‘dumbing it down’ – the last thing you want is to make already difficult clients feel like they are being treated with contempt. Invite their input and let them know that you respect their expertise in the matter.
Finally, keep smiling – there is nothing like a genuine smile to disarm even the most difficult client, even on the phone. Believe it or not, people can hear a smile. It completely changes the way you speak with people.
The stress here is on the ‘genuine’. Faking care and enthusiasm will be picked up on and result in clients becoming even more difficult. Genuinely caring for and treating my clients with respect has enabled me to work effectively with many unreasonable individuals – without the need to fire even the worst of them. Following these pointers will make this possible for you, too.
I’ll try to put together some thoughts on other strategies for dealing with problem clients and share them in a future post.