Audio version 6 mins
A Great Thing About Owning Your Own Business
Of all the reasons to have your own business, firing clients is right up there on the Top 5 List Of Excellent Things.
You have the freedom to do it, and I really recommend you do.
Let me tell you about when we fired a client who was straight-up abusive to our staff.
But first, a disclaimer. When you write a story like this it’s a real tightrope walk. There’s a high risk of coming across like a swaggering dick. Like those clients don’t deserve you.
Businesses where everyone thinks they know better than clients are not long-term winners.
They’ll Come Begging Back
I’m reminded of a line I’ve heard a lot from sales guys in lots of different industries (it’s always guys) who are always convinced they lost the client because a competitor tricked them into buying a much worse product for a lower price.
“When they find out what the competitor’s service is really like, they’ll come begging back.”
Here’s what really happens.
1. The other supplier’s service is usually fine.
2. If it’s not, the client doesn’t want to admit to themselves they made the wrong call. So they’ll post-rationalise their decision using other factors so it all makes perfect sense.
3. In the incredibly unlikely situation that they admit they fucked up, they’re not going to admit it to the supplier they dumped.
I’ve never heard of a client coming ‘begging back’ in any context.
Anyway, we love clients a lot. We go to great lengths to keep them happy, even when they’re high maintenance. That’s business.
You should always consider that they might be a good person having a shit day for reasons outside their control.
But there are limits.
The Personality Card
One of our offices was doing a show that felt like it might get a bit testy. So we put two show techs on it who are among our best. Both are calm and reassuring in high pressure situations. Most clients who work with them demand them on all their future events.
Our bad expectations turned out to be optimistic.
There was abuse. There was harassment of our staff about issues that were easily verifiable lies. Not just a one-off outburst, but sustained aggravation throughout a long day.
We weren’t the only ones, all the other suppliers in the room copped it.
So our local director called up the client the next day and explained that we wouldn’t be working with her any more. Ever.
Because we’re not OK with people abusing our staff.
She seemed a bit taken aback by that idea, like it might all have been a bit of a misunderstanding.
“You swore at our staff,” he pointed out.
“Yes, but that’s just my personality,” she said.
It’s 2021. Things have moved past the point of playing the ‘hey that’s just my quirky personality’ card in situations where you’ve abused people, creeped them out, or worse.
Firing clients is not something you want or need to do often. Between five offices I think we’ve done it about once every three years.
But that option should be there, waiting in your emergency toolkit.
Better Than Teambuilding
I spoke to the tech who was in charge on the day.
He said that he’d thought it would be a case of: hey that was a terrible day but it’s over now and we’ll all move on with our lives.
When he heard about that day-after phone call, he was really proud of his boss and the business for standing up for him like that.
From a business owner perspective, there’s no hesitancy at all. Our staff cope with all kinds of stress in the hectic corporate show environment, and stay cheerful with it.
If we don’t have their backs, how do we expect them to have ours?
Dispensing with a rogue client creates more motivation and culture than a hundred teambuilding courses.
Great staff are far harder to find than bad clients.
But It Will Cost Us Money!
Plenty of businesses will ask their staff to suck it up “because that client is worth a lot of money to us”.
That makes it even worse.
That’s literally putting a price on unacceptable behaviour.
We know it’s wrong, but for a threshold amount of money we’ll put up with it. And by we, I mean our frontline people, not us personally.
What does that say to your staff?
Your website says our people are our greatest asset.
But your actions say: our business is a bit like one of those illegal game parks where for half a million bucks, you can shoot a panda.
If your staff have to put up with treatment you wouldn’t accept yourself … what does that say about you?
UNDISRUPTABLE: BUY THE BOOK
It’s out real soon! Here’s a review:
Finally, a business book I can wholeheartedly recommend because it’s devoid of fads and doesn’t play ‘Buzzword Bingo’. Undisruptable contains only the truth and will make you laugh out loud. If you want to know how business really works, how to run your own show without having to wake up at 4am or shout motivational messages at your reflection in the mirror, if you’d like your business to make you money and not break your spirit, Undisruptable is your new bible.
Lacey Filipich, author of Money School
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