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How To Dump a Problem Client

BY Tami Brehse In Profitability On Sep 05, 2016 With 0 Comments

Breaking up is hard to do… especially when it’s with a client who helps contribute to your monthly paycheck!

Sometimes, though, a client breakup is inevitable, be it for operational reasons, your own sanity or a little bit of both. We’ll outline some justifiable reasons for dumping a client and show you how to do it diplomatically to keep your business reputation intact.

Why Break Up?

We spend eight hours of our day (and often more) at work. That’s half of our waking hours! Shouldn’t we do our best to make that time as enjoyable and productive as possible?

Studies say we should.

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According to the American Institute of Stress, Americans’ jobs are by far the biggest sources of stress in their lives. That stress plays out negatively on many levels, from personal health to employer finances.

Studies like the one cited above show that stressed out employees are absent more, have lower levels of productivity, have higher rates of turnover and cost employers in the form of medical, legal and insurance expenses.

Want to know what’s super stressful? A bad client.

That’s why pulling the plug on a negative client relationship can save you both your health and your money in the long term.

Signs It’s Time To Split

Not every customer is a walk in the park; in fact, overcoming bumps in the road with clients is a normal part of providing great customer service.

But how do you know when a customer has gone from a little high-maintenance to a downright toxic force in your workplace? The following are a few red flags:

Doesn’t fit your long term goals

If you find your team moaning and groaning every time there’s a project for Client X, ask yourself why.

Is the work boring? Does it go against your ideals? Is it an obvious “black sheep” when compared to other client work?

These are all signs that a client may not be in alignment with your long term goals. Company objectives evolve over time, and it’s only natural that your customer list will, too.

Is consistently the source of problems

We’ve all had that one client who never seems to be happy. Why would you work with someone when they’re repeatedly dissatisfied with your work, despite the fact that you’re doing the best you cab? It’s a tough question, but an incredibly valid one.

There are various reasons for dissatisfied clients. Sometimes they’re micromanagers. Sometimes their vision is severely disjointed form yours. Other times, they’re just chronic complainers.

If any of these is the case, you’ll save yourself a lot of angst by pulling the plug.

Has trouble with money

You pay your mortgage and electric bills on time every month, right? Good clients will respect you enough to pay your invoices on time, too.

Sure, there are those customers who pay a couple weeks late every now and then, but you know they’re good for the money; that’s not who we’re talking about here.  

We’re talking about clients that are always nickel and diming, asking for discounts on basic services or giving you the runaround when it’s time to collect payment. You’re better than chasing after unpaid invoices.

Is disrespectful or downright abusive

There’s no excuse for abusive behavior. In fact, if you know about it and allow it to continue, it could be grounds for a lawsuit from one of your employees!

6 Steps To Break It Off

So you’ve made the determination that it’s time to cut your client loose. How do you have that tough conversation?

The key here is to be the consummate professional. Your reputation depends on it.

Here are six steps for giving a customer notice that it’s over.

  1. Give proper notice

Always shoot for giving two weeks’ notice—at a minimum—that you’re discontinuing the relationship.

Depending on the scope of your work and the extent of your relationship, it may be best to provide up to a month’s notice.

  1. Don’t do it over email

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It’s the easy way out. Instead, exercise your character and inform the client of your wishes to conclude the relationship during your next in-person meeting.

If that’s logistically impossible, do it over the phone at the very least.

  1. Be clear and firm

Lay out clear and firm (but not too specific) reasons for ending the relationship. Here are a few examples you can borrow and adjust to fit your needs.

  • We’ve evaluated where we’re headed as a company and have decided to focus exclusively on projects in the [insert niche here] field.
  • It seems there are some critical differences in our expectations of working together. Because of this, I think another firm might be able to provide a better experience for you.
  • It’s been a pleasure working together, but for personal reasons I’ll be unable to provide service to your company after [insert date here].
  1. Provide an alternative

At the end of the day, all the client really wants is for his work to get done. Help facilitate this by offering a qualified replacement.  

This is also a great opportunity to sabotage your competition (we’re kidding—we swear!).

  1. Set expectations for the remainder of your time together

Make the impending transition as easy as possible by laying out a timeline for wrapping up your work.

Include deadlines for when final work will be submitted and provide a transition memo that includes any pertinent information for your successor.

  1. Keep it professional at all costs

Don’t get sucked into name calling or placing blame. Instead, end the relationship on a cordial but definitive note.

Remember: you never know where you’ll be five or ten years down the road. If you ever run into this client again, or if someone asks them for a reference, wouldn’t you prefer your last interaction to be a positive one?

Have you ever had to break off a relationship with a client? Leave us a comment and let us know how it went.

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Additional Resources

How To Avoid Decision Fatigue

How Having Fun Affects Company Culture

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