Dealing with Difficult Clients: The Only Strategy You Need

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 Difficult clients. You know the one (or ones) I’m talking about. Your receptionist answers the phone, politely places the caller on hold and says, “So and so is on the line for you.” It’s when you say, “Ack! I don’t want to talk to him/her” that you know you have a difficult client on your hands. What you do next is critical — for your sake, as well as your client.

Difficult clients, or “D-listers” as one of my clients calls them, share these characteristics:

  • Have unrealistic expectations
  • Don’t respect or value your work
  • Insist on the lowest rate possible
  • Require a lot of hand holding
  • Demand and drain your time and attention (and not in a nice way)

They tax you, your staff, and your systems. And, like “D list celebrities”, a D-list client has little bankability.

They’re so challenging, in fact, you wouldn’t wish them on your worst competitor. You just want them to go away! Sadly, most small business owners tolerate the D-lister, along with their draining, difficult behavior and dwindling value to the business.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

Consider this — is it really a good business practice to hand off or “fire” a difficult client that you agreed to take on? Granted, like dating, D-listers put their best foot forward — in the initial stages of the engagement. In all honesty, however, there are “red flags” you notice — and ignore.

It reminds me of a personal client experience.

We did incredible work together, moved his business forward, and met his business coaching objectives. Yet, he was dissatisfied with the work and demanded a refund. What?!

As I reflected on our initial conversation, I realized I disregarded a critical piece of information — this guy was rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it was sinking! No matter how good — or spot on — our work was, he possessed a “failure to thrive” mentality.

That’s not his fault. That’s who he is. I was the one responsible. I heard his words and chose to overlook them.

In my enthusiasm to acquire a client in the early stage of my business, I ignored a critical piece of information. No matter how well designed, executed, and successful the growth strategies for his small business, he would be a D-lister — difficult, disappointed, and dissatisfied.

Be Better or Be Gone

Once a D-lister is in your database, handling them properly is important to your reputation — no matter how much you loathe working with them.

In the age of social media and yelp, a bad review creates major damage for a small business that many don’t come back from. Unfortunately, the D-listers are most likely the one’s to post unflattering reviews.

We tip our hat to our client for generously sharing his D-lister strategy — consciously develop a plan for them to “be better or be gone”. Simple. Direct. To the point. And, most importantly, healthier for all parties.

When we knowingly take on a difficult client and/or one that does not fit our ideal client profile, it is our responsibility to ensure the D-list client is, in fact, more satisfied — either with us or with another company that is a better fit.

Just like your Mom told you “there’s someone out there for everyone”, there is another vendor, supplier, or service provider that can successfully meet, and even exceed, the demands of a D-lister.

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Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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