Good customer service dictates that business owners take the mentality of, “The customer is always right.” In many cases, this type of thinking will help a business grow, since good customer service is crucial for winning repeat business. By always delivering top-notch service, a business owner earns long-term loyalty, as well as business referrals.
Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work with every client. In some cases, business owners find they work hard to please customers, only to come up short on an ongoing basis. When that happens, it’s important to have a plan in place to prevent the situation from escalating.
The best measure you can take is to avoid difficult clients in the first place. While you may not be able to spot a picky client during your initial conversation, over time you’ll learn to spot red flags that alert you to walk away before it’s too late. If possible, start off with a short-term project before committing to something that will take multiple weeks or months to complete.
You can spot picky clients during your early conversations by simply listening carefully. What questions does the potential client ask? When describing his own project requirements, does he use terminology that indicates he expects to exert control over the manner in which your work is completed, instead of just trusting your process and waiting for the result? This type of behavior can be a sign you’ll have problems.
Outline expectations in writing.
Once you’ve decided to work with someone, make sure you get the client’s expectations in writing before getting started. This is often through the use of documents like a Statement of Work (SOW), which explicitly describes the work to be performed, the timeframe for its delivery and the price.
In creating the SOW, you will likely spend time discussing the mission and purpose of the project. You’ll also learn more about your client’s business, which will expand your insight into the project. Meet to go over the SOW and ensure the client is fully in agreement before signing the documentation and moving forward.
Push back when necessary.
As important as customer service is, it’s also important to assert yourself. You’re running a business, too, and you must remain profitable. If one of your clients is requiring extra hours of work outside of the original scope of the project, that client is taking away time you could put toward doing work for other clients.
Address extra work and multiple changes in your SOW. State how many rounds of changes your price includes and what the per-hour charge will be for changes outside of that scope.
Recognize when to cut ties.
Every entrepreneur must occasionally resign himself to losing clients. Sometimes a client decides not to renew a contract or contact you for future projects. Sometimes you part by mutual agreement. But sometimes you’ll have to make the decision to decline to work with someone again.
To maintain your professional reputation, try to give as much notice as possible. This may mean powering through the seventh and eighth rounds of revisions to complete a project. While it may be tempting to walk away mid-project, your difficult client could tell others about your project abandonment, leading to long-term reputation damage.
Difficult clients come in many varieties, but picky clients can take far too much time for far too little money. By having an action plan in place from the start, you can spot difficult clients during the initial consultation and walk away. For all other clients, you can develop an SOW that you can then enforce if a problem does arise.