There is always a customer who knows how to ruin their day.
You will see her name in your inbox and the dread pools in your stomach. “Maybe it’s not that bad,” you tell yourself. Maybe they just have one question.
But sure it’s a sucker. Their recent work is acting like trash, or they really can’t make payments this month, or they have “just a few small changes” that are neither few nor little.
You know the customer I am talking about.
Any agency or consultant who has been in the industry for more than a day has worked with problem clients.
Sometimes they show their bad side right away and sometimes they wait for you to get halfway through a 6 month contract. In either case, it can be bad enough that you should seriously consider whether this business is worth all the hassle.
But just because everyone has to deal with problematic customers at some point doesn’t mean that you just have to deal with them. You deserve to enjoy your job, open your inbox without fear, do your best, and know that it is valued.
This is fully achievable with just a few small changes in the way you run your business. And we’ve gathered them all for you here today with the help of some of our best and smartest DM certified partners. Here are some tricks for navigating when working with problematic clients.
You don’t HAVE to work with problem clients
The first thing you need to understand is that you absolutely do not need to work with such clients. It doesn’t matter how tight you feel or how “underqualified” you feel.
Keeping customers who cause trouble and make you hate your job is always going to do more harm than good to your business. So if someone is a bad egg, you should feel empowered to avert that.
But a few bad ones will pop up at any agency, and it’s not uncommon to go through a stage where it feels like you’re only getting problematic clients. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to prevent these types of customers from either dragging your job satisfaction into the mud or fueling your graduation rate.
We received most of these and other tips from Steven Werley, one of the speakers at our last Certified Partner Training Day, where the best minds from our DM Certified Partner program come on stage and talk about what works for them.
You see, the point is to set up checkpoints and keep the obligations small at first so you don’t get locked into a contract that you can’t or don’t want to fulfill. And it all starts with a single phone call.
Always have an introductory visit
One of the best ways to deal with problematic customers is to make sure that you are not dealing with them at all.
The easiest way to do this is to filter all prospects through an introductory call, also known as a qualification or recognition call.
An introductory meeting is one of the first points of contact with a prospect and the easiest place to turn away customers who don’t suit you. That way, you won’t waste your or your customers’ time in long meetings and consulting sessions. You have just spent a few minutes on a phone or video call.
The best way to be successful on these calls is to have a list of “red flags” or disqualifying factors on hand. That way, if these things come up in a call, you have some specific reasons for yourself and the customer why this is not a good fit.
What these disqualifying factors are will vary widely based on your business and personal preferences.
If you only want to work on the strategy with your customers, you should filter out customers who are looking for services that are tailored or done for you. If you are primarily working on a specific service and are just a media buyer, for example, you should turn away customers looking for other services such as web design or content creation.
Remember, you don’t have to do anything. If you put yourself back in a corner and try to offer services that you don’t particularly like or that you are not particularly good at, both you and the customer will start resending the contract and problems will arise.
However, as long as you have your red flag list in your introductory meeting and are honest with yourself and your client about what you can offer, the relationship will be geared towards success from the first contact.
Offer value to set better expectations
Sometimes the problem client is not necessarily a problem client. In many cases, this is someone who just doesn’t feel heard or doesn’t see how you can help them. And when you associate communication problems with the desperation of a customer who needs help to save their failing business, it’s not uncommon for the talons to come out.
But as long as the customer feels they have got their money’s worth, they will be happy. This means you need to provide a ton of value as early as possible.
We like to call this “value first”. And if you’ve never heard of it, we welcome you to a whole new world of customer relationships.
If you put a lot of emphasis on delivering a lot of value right from the start, let your prospects know that you have a lot to offer and that you won’t be paying them nickel and dime along the way. Your top priority is your success, not your profit margin.
And that doesn’t mean you have to ignore the profit margin. In fact, you shouldn’t be giving all of your best tricks away for free. However, you want to make sure that the very first interaction you have with a customer is valuable to them.
Steven Werley does this with his agency through a strategy meeting. Basically, he invites his customers to a 3 to 5-hour meeting after his introductory talk, in which he provides three basic framework conditions that put them immediately on the right path. If they walked away from this meeting and never saw him again, their business would still be better.
And that’s the key.
By providing a TON of value upfront, you can set up your customers to keep coming back. Because for them you have heard their problems clearly and are already helping them. And if the first meeting was worth it, they could only imagine what a long-term contract would look like.
Start at short notice
Speaking of long-term contracts, another great way to avoid customers with landing issues is to avoid long-term contracts in the beginning.
Sure, knowing you have a guaranteed check in the mail for the next 6 months or even several years might sound like a good idea, but Steven learned better, and so should you.
No matter how well your first meetings go, you always want to start small. If your intro call is a hit, invite her to a unique strategy session like Steven does. If that single session goes well, invite them to another single session to resolve a single problem. Or offer them a short-term or individual project contract.
The trick is to make sure you have plenty of opportunities and space to end this relationship. Because you remember the good customers who go bad? Well, you can always show your face, even if the first few meetings went well.
Now, I’m not saying you should look at every customer like a ticking time bomb. But make sure you don’t partner with yourself until you know the customer well enough. And as long as you offer a lot of value and attract customers who are a good fit for you, your customers on shorter contracts will keep coming back to do more.
Offer them their money back
Let’s be honest Sometimes things can fall through the cracks. Maybe the customer turned out to be someone he wasn’t originally, or maybe they just didn’t know what to need first.
Even if you get everything right, some customers will just be a bad match. And if you just can’t deliver what the customer wants, the best thing to do is to cut your losses and offer them their money back.
Steven Werley keeps an eye on himself during his strategy meetings and if the customer is simply not satisfied he offers a full refund. He knows that it is much better to lose 3-5 hours of your time than to lose days or weeks trying to force a customer to be happy.
This is a big part of why you want to start small. Not only is less time wasted in advance if it doesn’t work. Less money is lost when you have to issue a refund.
And if you give someone their money back if they are really unhappy with your work or their returns, they will not always take it. even the problem customers. But this offer signals that you really want the best for her. Some customers may see this as an opportunity to roll back the contract or change what they want to do.
Whether this offer resets expectations for the relationship or simply eliminates a problematic customer before sending you hundreds of emails with complaints, offering a refund gives you the space and time to find a better customer who suits you better. And you can make the money.
No matter what you specialize in, you will find yourself dealing with problematic customers at one point or another. But if you can adjust yourself to success with these strategies, you are more likely to weed out the bad ones before it gets really, very bad.
If you offer a lot of value to customers who are only looking for what you can offer, the customer will be more likely to ask for more services and you will do your job a lot happier. And that’s the best you can ask for.