How to Know When It’s Time to Fire a Client
I debated whether or not to write this blog. My husband, and in-house PR expert, heard the title and feared I would air my dirty laundry. I assured him that’s not the case. Truthfully, the reason I chose this topic is not to call out anyone or to express residual anger. In fact, some of the points I make here don’t apply to my personal experiences.
The reason I am writing this blog is to help other service providers who sometimes struggle with difficult customers. Every day I interact with a variety of service professionals – friends and colleagues –and I’ve noticed that some of them pin their hopes on the betterment of a fractured working relationship with clients when the reality is that it’s probably better that they cut the cord. And the longer they wait, the more resentful they become.
Why do they stay?
You name it. Horrible economic times, self-confidence issues, difficulty setting boundaries, fear of backlash and unconditional loyalty. If I can offer any insight from my own struggles with some of the aforementioned issues as well as what I see and hear from colleagues, this blog is it. Here’s when ‘it’s time!’
Abuse. This is easy to spot, but not always easy to sever. Abusers know how to keep their victims from retaliating. This is a delicate issue because it’s often very psychological. Just to be clear: there is NO room for abuse in any relationship – especially a professional one. Abuse includes bullying behavior, shouting or degrading, manipulation, or a refusal to meet half way. If it’s their way or the highway – I’ll take the highway, thanks.
Reluctance to Change. Have you ever proposed solutions for clients – for what seems like the tenth time – but they are hesitant to change, so they just keep doing the same thing and hoping for different results? That’s insanity! And it’s an exhaustive rat wheel and one that can lead to more stress than it’s worth.
Habitually Late or Default Payments. There are times when clients pay late – stuff happens! Personally, I am OK with this as long as they communicate it and it doesn’t become a habit. But, continually late-paying clients raise a red flag. And there should be no reason clients are not paying for services rendered. If they can’t afford your services, they need to be honest about it. It’s a matter of respect.
The “PITA Client.” If you’re spending more time answering countless emails, defending already formalized plans, deflecting unnecessary drama or fixing what’s not broken than accomplishing what you set out to do, then you might have a Pain In The A** (PITA) client. These are the clients who think they are the only client you have and they demand your 24-7 attention. This is another red flag because these folks can ultimately deplete your time on trivial matters that do not bring them any closer to their goals.
Many times, we can feel it in our gut and we know when something isn’t right. Sometimes we can communicate these concerns and come to a resolution. Other times, we need to contemplate cashing out. If you’re scared, consider what my friend Jennifer says, “Bad clients are toxic. We exert a lot of energy into pleasing them and sometimes neglect the good customers.”
Firing a client is never easy. The gratifying part is when you know that you’ve given an honest effort – and put your best foot forward despite the relationship imbalance. You ultimately decide to let them go and at the end, you thrive because you no longer have that liability.