I have a confession to make. I have a secret rule inside my business that I don’t work with bad customers. Bad customers are folks who are difficult and constantly complaining about something.
I don’t call them difficult, you really don’t either. We have several kinds of names for them.
I like how Entrepreneur Magazine does a wonderful job of putting these bad customers into four common categories and offers some helpful tips on how to handle the situation.
1. The late payer
You’re tempted to say: We can’t spend any more time chasing your checks and listening to your excuses.
Instead say this: I’ve enjoyed our partnership but you’ve been consistently late on payments while we have continued to deliver on deadline. We can’t operate on that financial model so unfortunately we can’t continue our relationship.
It’s important because: You have made the business relationship equal, rather than creating a hierarchy. You are also not criticizing their operational model or behavior, but simply stating the fact that their payments have been delayed or nonexistent.
What else to keep in mind: The client may respond with ?The check is forthcoming. Great! Let them know that once the payments are caught up, you can revisit the possibility of future engagements. However, do not commit to anything, and know that you’ll likely find yourself having this same conversation with this client down the line.
2. The diva
You’re tempted to say: You demand way too much of our time and we can’t make any money off of you.
Instead say this: ?Unfortunately, based on the amount of time you need for a project of this scale, we can’t fit it into our workload. It’s important because: You make it about your bottom line, your availability, and your business and not about their neediness. What else to keep in mind: In the future, set boundaries with your clients, whether that is a total number of hours you will work in an engagement or specific times that you can be available to them. This can help stave off the Sunday evening work ?emergency? from a needy client, or, at the minimum, give you a document to point to that says Sunday evenings are off limits.
3. The family friend
You’re tempted to say: I would have fired you months ago if I weren?t so nervous about seeing you at Thanksgiving.
Instead say this: I need to end our business relationship for these specific reasons but I hope this does not impact or damage our personal relationship. I know this might reflect on our personal lives so let’s talk about it.
It’s important because: While you typically don’t want to invite long conversation when firing a client, firing a personal friend or family member requires a different etiquette.
What else to keep in mind: Establish some guidelines on your relationship going forward, whether it’s agreeing not to talk to mutual friends about the situation or setting a time frame for seeing each other personally. While you are taking ownership of ending the relationship, let them take the lead on how to reconnect on a personal or family level.
4. The jerk
You’re tempted to say: ?My people just don’t want to hear you scream anymore. Instead say this: It’s my responsibility to provide you with the best service I can and unfortunately my team and I can’t do that because of the difference in our working cultures.
It’s important because: The end of the relationship is about your company culture, not theirs, says Woodward.
What else to keep in mind: If your client is a yeller or has a temper problem, be prepared for him to yell in this moment too. There’s also a possibility that he may disparage you or your company publicly. See the entire story atBreaking Up With a Client: What to Say
Here’s the truth about bad customers — they don’t see value in your business. The reason they don’t see value is because?their business system doesn’t mesh well with?your business system. Their business works a certain way and they want you to fit into that. If you don’t, you’re going to get complaints.
As hard as it can be to lose a customer, it’s sometimes for the best. Yes, you may lose potential income, but the mental and time costs of keeping them simply isn’t worth the hassle.
Not that it’s an easy decision. Unless you have a replacement immediately available, letting go of an old customer can be tough. Breaking up in business can be every bit as hard as breaking off a personal relationship.
Follow These Helpful Tips
1. Be Respectful
Good manners never go out of style, even if it means placating a bad customer who’s driven you to the brink. Besides, they’re someone who may remain part of your network and you don’t want them broadcasting to the world how poorly you treated them. Here are some guidelines:
*Be tactful (but don’t lie)
*Be constructive and not critical
*Listen more than you talk
*Be thankful for the good elements of the relationship
*Don’t get into the apology trap. One ‘I’m sorry’ is plenty.
2. Honor Your Commitments
Just as you would (or should) with someone who employed you, don’t just leave suddenly. Two weeks notice might be sufficient, but that depends on your kind of business and the projects you may still be working on for the client. At the very least you should offer to finish current projects. This will demonstrate that you live up to your commitments.
Want to take it a step further? Then recommend someone in your industry who may be better suited to serve the client’s needs. Just be careful that you aren’t sending someone unbearable your competitors’ way. Again, you can’t guarantee that your client won’t still bad-mouth you, but at least you did all that you could.
3. Be One Step Ahead
Your conversation about ending the relationship shouldn’t be the first time the client has any indication that there’s a problem. Waiting until the breaking point to suggest there are problems is likely going to close the door on the client for good, and you may not want to do that.
4. Use It as a Learning Experience
Once the relationship has ended and the dust has settled, make sure to take time and evaluate what happened and why. Write down the problems you had with the client, and if there were any warning signs you may have ignored. Your goal should be to address those issues earlier next time, or even avoid bad clients altogether. Invest in a tool that tracks customer interactions chronologically.
5. Keep The Door Open
Unless you – or the client – have absolutely no interest in working together in the future, then express your interest in staying in touch. It may be in your company’s best interests to part ways for now, but leave the option open for future business, if possible. You have to make that decision based on how the final conversation goes, and only if it’s a positive exchange. It it was, then reach out in a couple of months time with a piece of useful information or article.
You’re not Losing Money, You’re Freeing Up Time and Space for Better Customers
It’s never fun to fire a customer. But if you’re in a professional service business, that bad customer is taking up profitable space that might be better used by a customer who actually sees incredible value in what you offer.