Recently I asserted that all service providers should fire clients who are uncooperative or unprofitable
. Plenty of readers of The Savage Truth
agreed, but many asked, “How do I actually do it?”
Fair question. It’s not easy, but there are two guiding principles for this to work out well:
1. Be up front and crystal clear about what you are doing, and why.
2. Be scrupulously polite, and always leave the door open.
First, before you sit the client down for a good firing, you must decide whether there are any circumstances under which you would
do business with this client again. Usually such scenarios are possible, so it’s crucial to leave the door open for the relationship to be picked up again—if the circumstances are right.
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If the client has been obnoxious or dishonest, you might decide never to do business with that person again (a liberating feeling, I promise.) In that case, you can kill the thing stone dead, right there and then—but still politely. None of us needs an extra enemy.
So, how to do the deed?
If possible, sit down with your client face to face. If that’s not possible, then speaking over the phone is the next best thing. Email
? Never works. Always ends ugly. Don’t go there.
Your tone should be collaborative. (Avoid revealing the anger, bitterness, hatred, frustration, and annoyance you really feel.) Be polite. Be respectful.
Then, it’s your time to explain to the client that you really
do want to work with them, and you really do want to help them reach their goals, but that the status quo does not allow you to do that.
Then go through the conditions that prevail, and spell out everything you will do to assist this client get what he needs. Explain in detail your process, your commitment to quality, and everything else that makes up your service, as well as what you need to do to get the results the client wants. This might seem strange, as you are poised to sever the relationship, but what you are doing is laying the path for the client to be rehabilitated—either now in this conversation (unlikely), or sometime in the future when they realize they really do need your help (slightly more likely).
You shift the conversation to what the client must do to make the whole partnership work for his/her benefit.
You see what you have done? “I want to help you. This is what I do to help you, but this is what you need to do to help you.”
So you might say, “Mr. Client, you have heard me explain all the things I will do to solve your challenges, but that’s only half the equation. For this to work we need you to … be more responsive, be open to advice, be more flexible.” Or whatever it is the client is not doing.
Then say, “So this is how we can really get the result you want. Can you commit to working this way with me?” This is the “It’s my way or the highway” question. But you are doing it so nicely.
If the answer to that question is a flat “no,” just be up front. “Working the way we currently do, Mr. Client, does not get the results you or I want. Of course it is your choice how you work, so when you are ready to come back and work with me in a partnership model, in the way I have described today, I will be delighted to start working with you again”
Bang! That is a fired client.
The door is still open, though, and no one has been rude or insulted or humiliated. Keep polite, keep collaborative, and keep saying you want his business—on certain terms.
Truthfully, once fired, how often does the client “come back into the fold”?
About once out of five times has been my experience.
That’s OK. The other four you did not want, and the one who comes back is like the prodigal son—chastened and grateful.
Greg Savage is the founder of leading recruitment companies Firebrand Talent Search, People2People and Recruitment Solutions. A version of this story originally appeared on the his blog, The Savage Truth.