Have you ever had a BAD customer?
You know the ones – your heart sinks when their number comes up on your phone. They’re a nightmare to deal with. They pay late, question every bill, nitpick your work and get all dramatic if you mention putting up your prices.
I remember one of my first customers I took on as a brand new self employed marketing consultant.
It was a man who lived around 40 miles from me, who sold industrial products. We met up to discuss working together and he told me he’d had a problem with all the other marketing consultants he’d worked with. He also insisted I brought my degree and masters certificate with me to the meeting to prove I had these qualifications. (I know, I should have known then…)
I listened sympathetically and (in my head) decided I would be the exception. I would be the GREAT marketing consultant he needed. I would save him. I quoted him a price – he said yes immediately. I was overjoyed I had A NEW CLIENT. Yayyy!!!
Fast forward a few months when he had summoned me up to his house almost every week (and no, he wouldn’t pay mileage) because I’d made some sort of mistake or other. I dreaded his calls and emails. Everything was my fault. I was the same as the rest. That job cost me a fortune in diesel, unpaid invoices and self respect.
Something had to give before I snapped. Next time I got summoned, I spent that hour, those 40 miles, rehearsing. I decided I was going to fire him. I was scared witless and panicking (I hate confrontation and he was a bully) but I knew I had to do this for the sake of my business, my self esteem and my health…
That drive up there felt like the longest drive of my life. My heart was hammering in my chest as soon as I stepped out of the car. My voice shook and I felt unsteady on my feet but I said it. I said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t work with you any more. You’ll have to find someone else to help you.”
He was surprised, then argumentative, then angry, then abusive. But I survived. They were only words (albeit not very nice ones). I kept quiet, stayed professional and tried to let the insults slide off (easier said than done, he knew exactly what to say to push my buttons and make me feel bad).
But guess what? I did it. I fired him. I drove back home on a high, thanking my lucky stars I’d seen the light before it got even worse. I felt like I’d won the lottery.
Now, looking back I love that customer.
Why? Well, today I can see that he taught me so many lessons, and really big lessons at that. He taught me EXACTLY HOW I DIDN’T WANT TO WORK. He taught me what a BAD customer is so I’ve been able to avoid them since. He made me realise loads of things, quite early on and it’s saved me a lot of heartache since.
- I realised I needed to be much better at managing client expectations.
- I needed to price myself properly.
- I needed to have proper terms of business
- I needed to get part payment up front
- I needed to be more assertive
- I was determined never to be made to feel that way ever again by a client (or anyone)
- I needed to STOP SAYING YES TO EVERYONE WHO WANTED TO WORK WITH ME.
I realised that the reason he nearly snapped my hand off when I quoted him is that probably nobody else within 40 miles would take him on – I’m sure his reputation preceded him.
Does Any Of This Sound Familiar?
It’s a pattern I see all the time.
The BAD Customer Phase
I think nearly every business owner goes through this phase of attracting bad customers at some point. Usually these are customers from our early days in business when we’d take on anyone who asked – we’d say yes to any job, no matter how ill suited we were, because it meant someone wanted us AND we’d get paid.
We charged peanuts because we were ‘new’ and lacking in confidence – we were just grateful for the business!
- And then it all starts to go sour.
- They don’t treat you well.
- Their expectations are unrealistic
- They are demanding but not in a good way
- They have no respect for you or your time
- They ring/call/email at stupid o’ clock and go crazy when you don’t reply straight away
- They try to beat you down on price all the time
- They find fault where there is none
- They slowly but surely wear you down. You lose confidence in yourself and your business. You fall out of love with it and wonder why you bother.
It takes a while, and a whole lot of LOVELY customers to make you realise there is another way to work.
And even now, when you’re actually charging decent rates and attracting nicer customers or clients, you still hang onto these BAD customers, right?
You’re scared to let them go.
You have a bizarre love/hate sentimental attachment to them! It’s like an abusive relationship you can’t leave.
But Claire, you say, they’ve always stuck with me through thick and thin! They are lovely really, they just don’t know any better. They have cashflow problems, but I always get paid eventually. I’ve always been able to rely on their payments (even if they were paltry and late) to get us through….
Let me give you some advice.
Fire them! Now!
Well they are keeping you stuck. They are holding you back and keeping you down.
They are BAD for you and BAD for your business.
They are taking up time that you could be selling for a higher rate.
They don’t value you. They are taking advantage.
They are part of the ‘old’ business – not part of your future.
Bad business weighs heavy – your business can’t fly when it’s dragging old baggage with it.
You need to put on your big girl knickers and take action to stop this going any further.
Arrange to speak to them or meet with them. Tell then you’re sorry but your business is changing. Or you’re changing your focus. Or you’re cutting your hours. Or you don’t feel you’re a good match for them any more. Or tell the truth – say you can’t work like this any more and for both of your sakes, you’re going to cut them loose and set them free to work with someone else who is better suited.
There is a good chance they will be MAD. Spitting feathers. They will be (or pretend to be) offended. They will tell you that you’re unprofessional. That you’re making a big mistake. That they will tell everyone never to work with you. How very dare you. Or they will weep and rant.
And remember this rant, lovely lady because THIS – THIS behaviour is why you never want to work with them again.
No matter how much of a noise or scene they make, just keep telling yourself that it’s time to let them go. They are NOT your ideal customer. They are NOT good for you or your business. Stick to your guns. Don’t give in.
And above all else, you’re protecting your self respect. You are showing YOU that you value yourself (how can you expect anyone else to value you if you don’t value yourself??). And I’m going to say something a bit woo-woo here – That BAD customer needs to go to make room for an awesome new one who’s waiting in the wings. I promise.
Your BAD CUSTOMER Challenge
Deal with them this week – get rid. You will feel AMAZING once your knees stop knocking and I guarantee your business will be much better for it.
Go on, we’re all here behind you, sending you moral support and you’ll feel like you’ve won the lottery once they’re gone. What’s not to love?
And if you want to share any bad customer horror stories to make us all feel better, feel free in the comments. JUST REMEMBER NOT TO MENTION ANY NAMES OR ANYTHING THAT COULD IDENTIFY THE PERSON IN QUESTION. The last thing you need is a legal letter through your door!
Claire Mitchell is a best-selling author of the Awesome Marketing Planner and founder of The Girls Mean Business, a mum and business owner. She has been featured in Marie-Claire, The Guardian, Closer Magazine, Essentials, The Huffington Post and on the BBC.