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7 Surefire Strategies to Transform High-Maintenance Customers into Your Biggest Advocates

high-maintenance customers

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Ah, high maintenance customers— you know who I’m talking about, the folks that can make your heart sink the moment you see their number pop up on your caller ID. Yet, as I’ve navigated the choppy waters of consumer interactions, I’ve stumbled upon a curious revelation: these demanding patrons aren’t just a thorn in our side. They’re a goldmine of opportunities. 

The Unseen Value of High-Maintenance Customers

Picture this: It’s a typical Tuesday, and I’m sifting through emails when I see a message from what many would label a “high-maintenance” customer. As soon as I see the “From” field I get this little lurch in the pit of my stomach.  It’s like my subconscious knows that I’m going to see something that is going to have me rework something that’s already been approved, do something that I’m not going to get paid for, or just be generally annoyed by whatever is in the email.

I know you have this too.  And, over the years, I’ve learned to pay attention to those feelings because they are a wealth of information and opportunities.

What’s Behind the “Uuugh”?

man holding telephone screaming - high-maintenance customer
Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash

When you have that halting feeling, know that your intuition is trying to tell you something.  That feeling is a whisper.  And if you ignore it, it’s going to turn into a scream, and if you ignore that, it’s going to turn into a major disruption in your business and your life. 

So you might as well start exploring it and dealing with it. 

Here’s my short list that I’ve developed over time.  Yours might be different, but the process should be about the same. 

Let’s just take it from seeing this high maintenance client’s name on your caller ID or email.

Rrrrring – you see their name. You have this “uugh feeling” — WHY? Your subconscious knows something that you’re not acknowledging.  And the way to get to the bottom of it is to start tracking what the little voice inside your head is thinking in the moment

  • I’m going to get criticized for something
  • They’re going to ask me to do something that’s not in the contract, but that I don’t feel comfortable saying no to
  • This is going to take forever, I didn’t plan for this

Let’s stop there.  Now, let’s look for what’s underneath that:

How this customer likes to work and how you like to work are very different.  

Like all things in life, it’s the little things that turn into a big deal.  And work preferences and work styles are so much more important than you might think. 

If you high maintenance customer prefers to communicate via phone or zoom and you prefer email – this is going to be a problem.

If your client prefers to brainstorm at meetings and you prefer a more structured agenda for meetings, that’s going to be a problem.

Here’s the fix:

  • Make a “workstyle” review or discussion part of your selling process.  Talk about how you will communicate, when you will communicate and how much communication there’s going to be. 
  • Have a process that you follow and make sure your client knows and understands how it’s going to go. 
  • Create policies around the key workstyle preferences that you have.  If you prefer email and your client prefers phone or Zoom, you can charge extra for that, for example. 

You didn’t cost out the project properly and you’re not charging enough

This is usually behind 80% of high maintenance issues. If you have a client who is constantly reaching out, micromanaging, interrupting, making changes, and taking up much more time than you budgeted for, you are going to see them as high maintenance. Your job is to make sure that you’re pricing properly and charging for all the things that will make the job worthwhile.

Here’s the fix:

  • Make sure that you have a policy for how you work and follow it. 
  • List out specific requirements such as how many changes or revisions are covered at your price point and how additional changes will be billed.  I usually say something like “This change is going to cost you $500 – are you ok with that?”  You’d be amazed at how this behavior will change. 
  • I don’t like to say no, so I will also say something like, I’d be happy to do this, it’s going to cost $X – is that ok with you?

Overall, the key here is to have a solid knowledge and understanding of how you work, what accommodations you are willing to make and how much those accommodations will cost?

Are You Really Making Money on High-Maintenance Customers?

The short answer is yes, but it’s complicated. High-maintenance customers demand more resources, time, and patience. However, they also push your business to elevate its game, refine processes, and improve service quality. By addressing their concerns, you’re indirectly enhancing your operations for all customers, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty across the board.

Can High-Maintenance Customers Improve Your Operations?

Absolutely. Think of high-maintenance customers as your most rigorous quality control inspectors. Their demands for prompt service, perfection, and personal attention force you to scrutinize and optimize your business processes. This relentless pursuit of excellence can lead to operational efficiencies, innovative problem-solving techniques, and a stronger, more adaptable business model.

Identifying High-Maintenance Customers: The Early Birds Catch the Worms

person pointing direction
Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

Identifying high-maintenance customers early on can save you a significant amount of time and resources. Look for signs like constant demands for discounts, frequent and detailed complaints, or an expectation for immediate responses at all hours. Recognizing these traits allows you to proactively manage their expectations and tailor your approach to their specific needs.

Transforming Challenges into Opportunities: Strategies That Work

Turning high-maintenance customers into advocates might seem like a Herculean task, but with the right strategies, it’s entirely achievable. Here are seven proven tactics to not only manage but also leverage high-maintenance customers to your advantage:

1. Empathy is Your Superpower

Start by acknowledging their concerns and showing genuine empathy. A simple “I understand why that’s frustrating for you” can go a long way in building a rapport.

2. Set Clear Boundaries

High-maintenance customers often have unrealistic expectations. Setting clear boundaries and communicating what you can and cannot do helps manage these expectations from the outset.

3. Personalize Your Approach

Customizing your service to meet their specific needs shows that you value their business and are willing to go the extra mile for their satisfaction.

4. Seek Feedback Actively

Encourage them to share their feedback, both positive and negative. This not only provides valuable insights for improvement but also makes them feel heard and appreciated.

5. Turn Complaints into Solutions

View every complaint as an opportunity to improve. Demonstrating a commitment to resolving issues can turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal advocate.

6. Educate Your Customers

Sometimes, high maintenance stems from a lack of understanding. Educating your customers about your processes, limitations, and how things work can alleviate many concerns.

7. Celebrate Successes Together

When you’ve successfully met their demands or exceeded expectations, celebrate these successes. A simple acknowledgment of a positive outcome can reinforce their decision to advocate for your business.

High-Maintenance to High Praise: The Journey of Advocacy

The transformation from high-maintenance customer to advocate doesn’t happen overnight. It requires patience, strategy, and a consistent effort to exceed expectations. However, when a high-maintenance customer becomes an advocate, they’re likely to be more vocal and influential than your average satisfied client. Their journey from dissatisfaction to advocacy can become a powerful testament to the quality and resilience of your business.

Common Reasons Why High-Maintenance Customers Become Advocates

  • Personalized Solutions: Tailoring your services to address their unique concerns can create a deep sense of loyalty and appreciation.
  • Exceptional Service: Consistently going above and beyond for these customers can transform their perception of your business.
  • Feeling Valued: High-maintenance customers who feel genuinely valued and understood are more likely to sing your praises to others.
  • Problem Resolution: Successfully solving their issues can lead to a strong emotional attachment to your brand.

Wrapping It Up

In the grand scheme of things, high-maintenance customers hold the potential to be your most vocal and influential advocates. By embracing their challenges as opportunities for growth, you can unlock a level of loyalty and advocacy that far outweighs the initial investment of time and resources. Remember, in the world of business, every customer interaction is a stepping stone towards excellence. Let’s turn those stones into milestones together.

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