As my partner and I have been growing our business over the past 11 years, there have been times, especially in the beginning, where we would take on clients that turned into time-sucking vortexes of frustration.
Not every customer is a good one. The customer really isn’t always right, and it might be time to let some of your existing customers follow through on their threats to leave.
But how does one deal with this today and avoid it in the future? Here are three methods that worked, followed by three more tips to help you through the transition (which doesn’t always have to end in losing the client).
Have a clear vision and direction for your company and communicate that to your staff, clients and potential clients.
This needs to be on everyone’s mind; your staff’s as they serve your client base, and your clients’ minds as they measure your service against your vision and goals. When staff is servicing your clients’ needs, they must have the right perspective and be able to effectively communicate that when setting expectations.
When you ask clients for referrals, explain that they should look, feel and smell just like them. Part of that is knowing why they are a good fit with your company and vice versa. Sales staff should know what makes someone a good fit, target those companies, and then further screen them during the sales process.
Confirm clients share your direction.
We’re a forward-thinking, growing business; that’s one of the key things we look for when interviewing prospects. It helps to have a certain synergy with management and ownership, so they can easily grasp your perspective.
Their values should also align with yours. It makes those quarterly business reviews (QBRs) that much more productive. Some existing customers won’t share your vision or be interested in shifting toward it. Although it’s hard, you need to stick to your guns on this one.
Be willing and able to fire clients.
Be decisive. Give clients no more chances to course-correct and change behavior than you would an employee. Have you ever waited too long to fire a member of your staff who poisoned your work environment? I have, and the comments that I received from other staff members were ones of relief … but also questions as to why it took so long.
It’s the best move for them and you. No one wants animosity or frustration to build up in a relationship whether personal or in business. It affects the quality of service as well as the work environment. And let’s be honest, the client can tell.
Build the business that you want to own.
Fix what’s broken. You don’t want to scale the wrong model. Bad clients can be those who don’t pay their bills on time, pester your tech staff for insignificant problems constantly, skip QBRs, constantly price shop you and so on.
However, some of these can be easily fixed by:
- Moving to auto-payment methods, prepayment for hardware, etc.
- Leveraging an RMM with auto-remediation and client training for those level-one problems.
- Adding value to QBRs with budgeting, lifecycle management and business discussions about relevant issues in their industry segment. Get to know their business really well.
Let bad clients fire you.
I’m serious. Sometimes we hang on to bad relationships. But don’t speculate. If you can, try to arrange an exit interview to learn if, where, and why you failed to meet and exceed their expectations. If you screwed up, admit it. If possible, make it right. Either way, don’t do it again.
Take the relationship beyond vendor/client.
You can learn from each other and grow together. A partnership dedicated to mutual success will build quality, lasting business relationships, and you’ll be amazed at the referrals that come in.
If you can save a failing relationship, you may learn a lot, and come out better and stronger and with a better relationship. Remember, they’re called growing pains for a reason. Above all, communicate, communicate, communicate.
Author Stuart Bryan founded Taftville, Conn.-based I-M Technology, LLC with his partner in 2003.