While all advice businesses pursue their ideal client, it’s fair to say that many advisers also have one or more ‘clients from hell’ on their books. This no-nonsense conversation from Knowledgemaster’s Jim Prigg sets out exactly how he thinks advisers can move undesirable clients out of their business…
Every business has them – the client from hell. You know them, don’t you?
- The “look at moi, look at moi” egotist.
- The late respondent to requests.
- The “can I add just one more item for the same price” schemer.
- The Picky Picky family.
- The drama detail king/queen.
- “The XYZ company is 25% cheaper” skinflint
- The late or prolonged payer wanting a discount for work already done
In the age of online, 24/7 interaction, dealing with unreasonable, difficult and ignorant clients is a situation that cannot be ignored. Clients can demand such a high degree of instant accountability from service providers these days. Things can go wrong. But you do have the right to select who you want to deal with on a long-term basis.
Like any other problem you face in business you need an action plan to combat and contain the problem. We will look at the components of getting rid of these undesirable clients covering the following jurisdictions:
- Quarantine what you have
- Filtering out undesirable clients
- Set standards for all new clients
- Set a time frame for elimination of undesirable clients
- Learn to walk away from undesirable situations before they eventuate
1. Quarantine what you have
Audit and identify what you believe to be undesirable attitudes, substandard interaction components or negative actions/activities that create the profile of the client you don’t want or need.
Maybe your client never returns your calls or needs to instant message you at all hours. They ignore your credit or payment arrangements. They constantly change the terms of engagement.
Set up the list of who is undesirable if they have more than a certain number of faults. Then put them on your CFH (Client From Hell) list
Set some boundaries to help you quarantine the problems such as:
- Telling clients what you will and won’t provide
- Letting them know you will charge more if they ask for extras or services outside the original agreement
- Explaining that you will not be extending beyond your original contract terms
- Saying you are too busy to take on any new projects ¥ Telling them you will be reviewing all services as of a certain date and outlining the new conditions and rates ¥ Giving plenty of warning at the end of a project or contract cycle that there will be changes
You may think you need their business. You may be afraid to sacrifice the cash-flow. You might not like confronting unpleasant people. In reality though as soon as you can train or exclude these bullies you will feel better. It will give you more time to attract a better class of client.
2. Filtering out undesirable clients you already have
Give undesirable clients an excuse to leave you
This can be as simple as putting up your prices from a certain date, even if it is only to this client. Or you may simply say you have taken on a large contract and will be unable to help them from a certain date. What feasible reason(s) can you create to offer undesirable clients the opportunity to look elsewhere?
Setting expectations of your choosing
If you haven’t got an annual agreement and contract or project rate for your services, now is a good time to set the parameters of what you want clients to do and how to pay for what you deliver. Once a contract has reached its fulfilment, set the new terms and agenda before you engage in any new work.
Refer them to other providers
Suggest they may get a better deal, a lower rate or better trading terms elsewhere. Mention your competition or a provider who may be looking to engage new clients. Encourage them to look at other sources of supply. Maybe they will see they are getting excellent value from you after all!
3. Set standards for all new clients
As from now set standards that can nip bad habits or behaviour in the bud. This can be things like:
- Monthly payment agreements
- Specific contact times during which you’re available (and not available)
- Response times by clients for information
- Progress payment schedules and agreements
- Responsible persons listing
- Chains of command in times of absence or emergencies
- Annual reviews
- Disengagement protocols
By being strong at the beginning of any relationship you will have set initial ground rules for addressing problems the client from hell may engage in with you.
4. Set a time frame for elimination of undesirable clients
By setting a timeline for eliminating undesirable clients you are compelling yourself to act on the problem. Get rid of the victim mentality and act in your interests, not those of bullies or malingerers.
- Firstly, you have identified the components of the client from hell
- Secondly you have identified who they are
- Thirdly as part of the process you will need to set a time frame for disengagement. This can be: at the end of a contract, by a certain date, if certain benchmarks are not maintained, if new work is proposed then the operations are on your terms or simply you no longer do that type of work.
5. Learn to walk away from undesirable situations before they eventuate
If you have a feeling that a potential new client is going to be problematic at the outset, then learn to say ‘no’ upfront. Check out where they have dealt before. Problematic clients usually have form and aren’t likely to change.
You do have a choice about who you want to deal with and the terms of engagement, despite what certain consumerists and lobby groups like to preach.
Simply say, “I am sorry, but I won’t be able to work with you on your project as it has components that I would not be able to fulfil to your satisfaction or standards.”
Many undesirable accounts just aren’t used to being told the truth up front.
Actions and Activities
- Identify the characteristics that constitute your client from hell
- Identify who your clients from hell are
- Set a time frame to eliminate them from your business
- Assign the specific technique(s) to help them disengage from you
This article is reprinted with permission from Jim Prigg CEO and founder of Knowledgemaster International (KMI) Pty Ltd. KMI is an online resources company that delivers practical communications, interaction, sales and soft skills tips, tactics, techniques THAT WORK.