How To Break Up With A Toxic Client

If all of your best efforts fail, it may be time to say goodbye. Here are several things to consider before you pull the plug.

Photo: Shawn Freeman, founder of Calgary-based TWT Group; Source: Courtesy Photo
Photo: Shawn Freeman, founder of Calgary-based TWT Group; Source: Courtesy Photo

When entrepreneurs launch new businesses, they go to extraordinary lengths to win and keep clients. You know the drill: we’ll take any meeting, make dozens of cold calls and send out hundreds of emails.

Slowly, our hustle is rewarded as our business grows. But despite our best efforts, we quickly learn not all clients are created equal. Not all clients are worth keeping, either.


When it’s time to fire a client

I fired a problematic client because it was the best thing for both of us — but not before I identified the problem, did my best to solve it and confronted the worst-case scenario.

The client in question was a poor communicator. When the client didn’t immediately get what he wanted, he verbally abused my staff members, who were only trying to help. Unfortunately, many of the issues he encountered were self-inflicted.

Like any IT provider, we expect most of our clients to have a basic understanding of computers. Without this basic understanding, this client came back to us over and over again with the same complaints.

If your client isn’t happy, go out of your way to make it better. Prove that you want them to be satisfied and that you value their business. Yet, if all of your best efforts fail, it may be time to say goodbye.

Here are several things to consider before you pull the plug.


1. Don’t give up too soon

To make this particular client happy, we assigned a different employee to act as his contact, in case the issue was a personality conflict. He dealt with at least four different employees. Initially, he’d tell us he loved the new person, but a month later he would end up dissatisfied again. I’d end up doing damage control because the client was in a particularly rotten mood or having a bad day.


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We continued to serve this client for an entire year. Unfortunately, the longer we persevered, the more the relationship disintegrated.

At this stage, don’t lose hope or get down on yourself. Sort out the real problem and approach it with open eyes. Plan for the worst case scenario: Either the client fires you, or you fire the client.


2. Be painfully honest

Ultimately, we had to tell our client that we couldn’t be responsible for remembering his passwords. IT issues are intrinsically linked to privacy and security. So we expect our clients to create and remember their own passwords. We can’t do it for them. That would be a privacy nightmare. We recommend they use tools like Roboform or 1Password.

The client threw a fit. Given his past behavior, we weren’t entirely surprised, but we were disappointed. The next day, we fired the client and instructed him to find new IT support.


3. Do your best while educating clients

It’s painful to let a client go. Make sure you always do the best possible job before taking this step. Book extra time to listen to their concerns. Brainstorm alternative client service strategies with your team. Walk them through your contract in case they missed any key details.


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If the client simply cannot be pleased, save your sanity and reputation. Calculate how much profit and revenue you’ll lose after firing the client. Start pursuing new clients to offset the loss.


4. Always protect your team

As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to protect the people who work incredibly hard for you. No one deserves verbal abuse from a client, even if a client is frustrated. If your hardworking employees are taking the hit day after day, you may end up losing them instead of that client you can’t stand.


This article has been edited.

Shawn Freeman is revolutionizing the IT services model. The founder of Calgary-based TWT Group, Shawn helps businesses maximize their IT, using intuitive technology to maximize their efficiency, increase revenue and protect valuable data. The result? Businesses with the edge they need to stand out in their industries. Connect with @shawn_freeman on Twitter.


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