Whether you’re new to business or have been grinding it out for a while, there’s a high probability that you’ve dealt with your fair share of difficult customers. You know, the situations where you find yourself questioning why you started your business? In society we have this stigma that being “busy” means that we must be doing well. If we’re not filling every waking moment with productivity then we’re not successful. So we take on more work than we may want to just so we feel accomplished. And of course, that comes with strings attached. Like working with customers that are less than ideal or who don’t fit our business models. That puts us in a tough situation later on. Short-term gain for long-term pain. As a result, you may find yourself reconsidering your relationships and possibly even letting some customers go. But how do you know who the ultimate problems are? Below we’ve outlined the top 5 signs that it is time to fire a customer.
1. There's a Lack of Respect for Your Time and Work
If you have customers contacting you at 11pm or expecting immediate email replies at 6am, this is a clear indication that they do not respect you or your time. If you’re human you most likely have a life outside of your business (or at least are trying to!) and expect your customers to respect personal boundaries. Your clients should be coming to you for the product or service you offer, nothing else. Sometimes circumstances call for extraordinary effort, but not often (otherwise they would be known as ordinary). In addition, your product or service should be respected and the value offered worth it to your customers. If they can’t recognize that, flush them. Don’t try to make everyone happy, especially those that are overly demanding. If a client can’t respect the boundaries of your time and the quality work you are providing than you are wasting energy working with them.
2. There’s a Lack of Communication
Chasing down clients for answers is not, and will never be a fun task. It also shouldn’t be necessary. With an internet connected world, it shouldn’t be so hard to track people down and finish work for them. I don’t care if you are writing eBooks or making custom glass art, people should be responsive. You’ll notice your exceptional customers are always getting back to you promptly and the wayward souls get back to you when it’s convenient. This goes hand in hand with clients not respecting your time or your work. Waiting on responses or playing phone tag is not a beneficial use of your time. Instead of waiting on communication or tracking down clients your time could be spent improving your marketing to attract your ideal clients, or spending more time with your current top clients. Don’t tolerate poor communicators.
3. Scope Creep – Asking for A and Expecting B
Business starts with either a written or verbal contract. This contract outlines what is or isn’t expected with your upcoming project. But often there are customers who try to push these limits beyond what is outlined. It may start small and you don’t realize them asking for more and more. If you’re not aware, this can escalate quickly and all of a sudden you are not being paid proportionately for the work that you are ultimately doing. Now, you may not need to fire these customers but definitely point out what they are asking for versus what was agreed upon and up your rate. If you can’t come to an agreement then it may be best to stop production and end the relationship. No amount of money would be worth being taken advantage of.
4. They Ignore Your Advice
There’s nothing like being paid for information, advice, expertise, or whatever you want to call it…and then being completely ignored. What happens next? You get blamed when something goes wrong and it’s usually something you told your customer about ahead of time. Like this “when you’re cleaning your house, don’t mix ammonia and bleach” and then they do, pass out from noxious gas, and find themselves in the hospital. Then they call you up saying “why didn’t you tell me?” This is an exaggerated example but this is exactly what happens in our world. If someone is coming to you for advice then they are searching for their own answers, be careful. Like when anyone goes to the doctor nowadays having researched their problem ahead of time. Just be cognizant that these customers may be hard to deal with. Additionally, if they ignore your advice and run into issues, they will still likely come to you to blame. You cannot guarantee that everything you suggest for someone will be followed 100%, but if they are ignoring your advice more often than not, then they are not someone that you want to be working with and you should seriously consider what the relationship is worth to you.
5. They are Slow to Pay
Once your work is complete, payment is obviously expected. A better practice is demanding payment up front. Think about every transaction that you encounter on a daily basis. Does Starbucks give you your latte before you pay? No. Why should you be expected to wait, especially if a product or service has been delivered? Waiting on a client to pay may extend the time of your engagement with the customer and can create opportunities for “discounts” or scope creep because the project is still active. Having to also constantly think about if a client is going to pay is a waste of your time and energy and causes additional unnecessary stress. If a customer is slow to pay, and it’s often the case, try discussing a change in payment terms (up front, progress billing, etc.) or channel your time into finding customers that understand modern commerce.
6. Bonus Tip! – Non-compliant
If you were a doctor and you had a patient come into your office with an awful disease that could be cured by losing 10 lbs but the patient ignored you, they’d be non-compliant. What more can you do if people don’t want to help themselves? It’s the same thing we experience when clients show up with 10 years of unfiled tax returns (yes that is a thing). They’re non-compliant. We don’t pass judgment (and neither should you) but more often than not these cases are challenging because you’re asking someone to make a profound mental change and that is never easy. If you have customers that are non-compliant in other areas of their lives, you may want to consider if that will eek into whatever your business offers and if they align with your ideal customer.
We hope this list has inspired you to review your customer base, either current or prospective, and to become more selective with those that you work with. With the world as a potential customer base, there is no reason any business should settle for customers that can’t provide just as an exceptional experience as your business can!