When entrepreneurs launch new businesses, they go to extraordinary lengths to earn clients. We’ll take any meeting, make dozens of cold calls and send out hundreds of emails. Slowly, our hustle is rewarded as our client list begins to grow. But despite our best efforts, we quickly learn that not all clients are created equal. Not all clients are worth keeping, either. I fired a problematic client because it was the best thing for both of us — but not before I identified the problem, did my best to solve it and confronted the worst-case scenario.
The problematic client in question was a poor communicator of his IT issues, which my team was doing their best to solve. When my client didn’t immediately get what he wanted, he verbally abused my staff members, who were only trying to help. Unfortunately, many of the issues he encountered were ones he created himself.
Like any IT provider, we expect most of our clients to have a basic understanding of computers. Without this basic understanding, our client came back to us over and over with the same complaints. Because IT issues are intrinsically linked to privacy and security, we expect our clients to come up with and remember their own passwords. We can’t do it for them. That would be a privacy nightmare.
If your problematic client isn’t happy, you should go out of your way to make it better. Prove to them you want them to be satisfied and that you value their business. Spend more one-on-one time with them or divert more resources to their projects. If they need to learn how things work with your team, take the time to teach them. Be patient.
Don’t Give Up Right Away
To make this client happy, we assigned a different employee to act as his contact, in case the issue was a personality conflict. He dealt with at least four different employees. Initially, he’d tell us he loved the new person, but a month later he would end up dissatisfied again. I’d end up doing damage control because the client was in a particularly rotten mood or having a bad day.
We continued to serve this client for an entire year. Unfortunately, the longer we persevered, the more the relationship disintegrated.
At this stage, don’t lose hope or get down on yourself. Sort out what the real problem is and approach it with open eyes. Start planning for the worst case scenario: Either the client fires you, or you fire the client.
Be Honest, Even If It’s Difficult
Ultimately, we had to tell our problematic client that we couldn’t be responsible for remembering his passwords. Doing so would be a security concern. The client threw a fit. Given his past behaviour, we weren’t entirely surprised, but we were disappointed. The next day, we fired the client and instructed him to find new IT support.
Do Your Best While Educating Your Problematic Client
It’s painful letting a client go. Make sure you always do the best possible job before taking this step. Book extra time with them to listen to their concerns. Brainstorm alternative client service strategies with your team. Walk them through your contract in case they missed any key sections. If the client simply cannot be pleased, save your sanity and reputation. Take the time to calculate how much profit and revenue you’ll lose after firing the client. Start pursuing new clients to offset the loss.
And don’t forget to learn something from the experience. Going forward, I’ve made sure my clients truly understand the privacy and security aspects of their IT, and how they are responsible for their own personal passwords. We recommend they use a programme like Roboform or 1Password.
Always Protect Your Staff From A Problematic Client
As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to protect the staff members who work so hard for you. No one deserves verbal abuse from a client, even if that client is frustrated. If your hardworking employees are taking the hit day after day, you may end up losing them instead of that client you can’t stand.
[This post first appeared on the Business Collective – an initiative of Young Entrepreneur Council, which is a free virtual mentorship programme that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.]