Ever had a client that just doesn’t fit? No matter how much you try, it’s junior school all over again where you’re desperately trying to cram your Size 8 feet into your favorite running shoes that are a Size 7. Ouch!
You muscle through, dreading each email or phone call with them, kvetching to your other half (bless their soul for putting up with the ongoing Client X drama) and resenting their business because it’s making your life miserable. According to the Pareto Principle, they are the 20% of your client base that takes up 80% of your time, causing the other 80% of your customers to not receive quality customer service from you. See where this is going? Downhill. Fast. Like the Crazy Canucks ski team.
But a customer is a customer and must be nurtured at all costs, right? Not only do we live in a world where the “customer is always right” but stats show that it costs 6–7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one (Bain & Company). So you grit your teeth and carry on because it’s what you do in business.
But what if you did exactly what you did with those Size 7 sneakers when they no longer fit?
Get rid of them.
Radical, I know. But in order to have healthy growth you need to trim the deadwood.
It’s scary to let go of a client. I did it once and it scared the crap out of me because they were our only event for the month. But I realized it was the best decision for them, myself and my company. Were they happy with me for firing them? Well, no. But I knew that if we were to continue pushing through, it wasn’t going to get any better. Customer service industries like wedding planning are highly subjective and largely relationship based – without affinity between the client and provider, it’s impossible to have a positive experience for either party. You need to be magnets (the two ends connecting, not repelling each other).
It wasn’t an easy decision but I’d been down this road a few times over the years and every time I swore like a drunken sailor on a Shanghai shore leave that I’d never suffer through a bad client relationship again. Like a blind date set up by your grandma, it never, ever ends well. No matter what you do, how hard you try or how much you go above and beyond for them, they aren’t happy with you because they are a square peg and you are a round hole. Oil and water. Kanye and Taylor. Some things just don’t go together.
What makes a client fire-able?
- lack of respect for you and/or your staff (like Aretha said, R-E-S-P-E-C-T)
- abusive behavior (ain’t nobody got time for that)
- breach of contract or not adhering to terms and conditions (they don’t want to play by the rules? Pick up your bat and your ball and go home)
- lack of integrity/illegal activity (unless you knowingly work for Tony Soprano and are OK with it)
- wanting continual discounts/insisting on old pricing (you are not the $1 Store)
- change in your business model (they’re a dial-up, you’ve gone digital = time to move on)
So how do you go about firing a client who’s not a good match?
First – with as much compassion and professionalism as you can muster from the depths of your soul. We are all humans and being rejected is painful, especially by someone paid to help you. Give an explanation as to why you’re severing the ties.
They can be for purely business reasons, personal circumstances or, the hardest one of all, the honest approach that you aren’t a good fit.
“After in-depth research, our company has decided to focus on a specific segment of our clientele that are in best alignment with our future goals. Unfortunately, with these changes, we are saddened to say that we are no longer the best fit for your business. “
“It’s been a great experience working with you but unfortunately, due to personal reasons, I am not able to assist you with XX as of XX date. I am so sorry for this inconvenience and please do know it was not a decision taken lightly but the circumstances are such that I am left with no alternative.” (if you want to elaborate on the highly personal reason, you can but not necessary).
“Lately, it seems that our working relationship has been experiencing a number of challenges. Unfortunately, I don’t think we are the company best suited to ensure your success. “
Suggest a Plan B and Plan C – it may seem crazy to send your competition business but it makes the client feel that you are looking out for their best interests and, if we are being truly diabolical, it ties up your competitor with a time-wasting/high-maintenance customer. *strikes a Dr. Evil pose whilst laughing maniacally
“Perhaps Company X or Company Y may be better able to assist you in reaching your goals. Both are well-respected in the industry and either would be an asset to your team. I’ve included their contact information here.”
Give a date as to when the relationship is over and what action steps you’ll be taking to wrap things up.
As of X date, my company will not longer be able to assist you on Y (whatever job you were hired for). Thank you for your understanding and please find below what actions you can expect from us to be completed by X date.
If they have paid you any kind of a retainer or a deposit for future work that may become a sticking point, offer a full or partial refund upfront so you’ve nipped any discussion in the bud. Outline how and when you’ll be refunding them.
If they get nasty, keep it short and professional.
“Your feedback is appreciated, however, our decision is final. As mentioned earlier, here is what you can expect from us by X date.”
And, ideally, do the deed over the phone rather than by email. After all, no one likes to get dumped in a text.
Being successful in business isn’t always about more but knowing when to let go. It requires being fearless and knowing that the short term loss will result in a long-game goal.
Oh, and that client I let go? Two other clients hired us within a week for the same month. Bigger (and more profitable) events with customers who fit like a glove.