Bite-Size Chunks of Wisdom

Best Practices, Client Acquisition, Client Service

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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.

In today’s competitive marketplace, 92% of all products and services are bought, not sold. Being visible to your future clients is a marketing priority. Who better to sing your praises and draw attention to your services than happy, satisfied clients? Happy clients don’t just happen, however. Happy clients come from satisfying customers experiences.

How can you create a pleasing experience for your customers with each encounter?  According to Colin Shaw, author of The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value, 50% of the customer experience is driven by emotion. Equipped with this reality, you can elevate your customer service by tapping into these customer-experience building tactics to develop long-lasting, happy, satisfied clients that ultimately lead to referrals:

Establish a Voice of the Customer (VOC) Program. Why not engage customers in co-creating their own experience? A VOC program is a cost-effective approach for capturing critical customer insights. It helps better understand the needs, expectations, and desires of your customers. In addition to helping create the ultimate customer experience, it also increases customer loyalty, satisfaction, and generates more positive word of mouth. In truth, VOC programs are the growing trend for 2011.

Build Customer Communities.  Social media has expanded the depth and breadth of one’s personal and professional network. According to the Pew Research Center, the average American has 634 ties in their network of friends, families, co-workers, and acquaintances. The power of their influence is palpable. In fact, 24% of American adults say they have posted comments or reviews online about products or services they purchased. Your future clients are tapping into their network for reviews, recommendations, and opinions. And, they’re more apt to believe what their peers say about your business! Why not build a customer community as your voice to the marketplace.

Strengthen Your Moments of Truth. It only takes seconds to sell or sour a client on your product or service regardless of the length of time the client has been associated with your business. A moment of truth is a sliver of time when clients or prospects interact with you and your business, then decide whether or not to do business with you, to share you with their network, or to use your products/services again. Although moments of truth may seem insignificant when they’re happening, clients may have an entirely different reaction. Strengthening the moments of truth in your business accelerates your business’ growth by ensuring your clients remain on the continuum of the “Nine Steps for Building Virtual Trust.”

It’s often said, “Customers go where they are wanted and stay where they are appreciated.” From requests for service that go unanswered to being ignored while waiting in line, customers are less forgiving and tolerant of companies that fail to step up and deliver good customer service. This presents an exceptional opportunity for you as a small business entrepreneur to differentiate yourself from larger companies – and your smaller competitors. By tapping into the brilliance of your clients, you’ll deliver exactly what your clients want with every interaction. And, who wouldn’t want to enthusiastically share you with their friends and colleagues.

Customer experience – it’s the new lead-generating referral marketing.

Core Business Assessment


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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