How To Deal With A Nightmare Client!

In my recent post, Dump Your Dud Clients, I told you the story of a business associate of mine - a lovely builder - who I thought I’d helped by passing him a referral for a complete housing renovation project. How wrong was I! A dream job, but unfortunately working for the client from hell. This post clearly struck a chord with some of you and got me thinking about how do you recognise ‘the client from hell’ and when one comes across your path, how can you deal with him or her more effectively?

In my experience, there are four types of nightmare client:

  1. ‘The Worrier’ - S/he doesn’t know what she wants and can’t make decisions. This type of person is usually a worrier; anxious that they’ll make the wrong decision and regret it later. In your initial consultation with ‘the worrier,’ your job is to help the person to clarify what they do want. If they can’t make up their mind, reschedule the consultation meeting, and make sure s/he knows what decisions need to be made by then, ideally confirming these in writing.
  1. ‘The Micro-Manager’ – Alternatively described as ‘the control freak,’ it’s deep seated insecurity and a lack of confidence that causes someone to behave in this way. Most of us have micro-manager tendencies, but some of us rein it in better than others! If you’ve ever worked with a micromanager, you know just how unproductive and demoralising it can be. This control freak thinks they know as much as you do about your area of genius, tries to second-guess everything you do, and can shake your confidence in your own abilities. Annoying as micro-managers are, they’re actually incredibly predictable so watch out for their behaviour swings. Certain situations and times of the day or week will agitate them more. Once you know what triggers them, you can stay ahead of those stressors and anticipate their needs early on. Deal with potential problems before they escalate and offer solutions and be proactive. This helps them curb their responses to the pressure points without slipping into micro-management mode.
  1. ‘The Time Thief’ – S/he shows no regard for your time, cancels appointments at short notice, is ill-prepared for meetings meaning decisions are delayed and they don’t give you what you need within the timeframe agreed. They’re quite likely to have ‘emergencies’ caused by poor planning on their part. To deal with ‘the time thief,’ it’s important to have clear boundaries in place, particularly when it comes to cancellation policies. And to confirm the details of any meeting, including the agenda.
  1. ‘The Penny Pincher’ – The ‘cheap skate client’ thinks nothing of trying to get you to do double the work for the price they were quoted. And in all probability will argue about the final bill. They’ll be late in paying their invoices and are more likely to ask for a refund, even though this isn’t justified. This is where having well-written contracts and clear terms and conditions come into their own. Confirm any variations to a contract in writing, preferably by email as this you then have a record. Take a deposit in advance of working starting – a minimum of 50%. Set clear payment terms and your refund policy.

In a perfect world, you’ll know exactly who your ideal customer is and have a solid ‘Red Velvet Rope’ policy in place so that you’ll never have to deal with a nightmare client again. But sometimes, despite your best efforts, the odd one will slip through the net. Now I’m assuming here that your customer service is exemplary and you’ve done your very best to address any legitimate concerns an unhappy customer has. That being the case and you’re dealing with a customer who (i) makes you feel physically or mentally sick (ii) is always trying to trip you up (iii) shouts and rants at you (iv) sends obnoxious emails (v) posts negative comments about you on social media or (vi) is a persistent late payer, then fire them. Professionally, succinctly and pleasantly. But have the courage of your convictions and fire them nevertheless. This will free up your time and energy to work with customers who do appreciate your service, and your business will flourish!


Have you had to fire a client before? Did you leave it too long and regret not doing it sooner? And if so, what are your top tips for doing this in a professional and amicable manner? I would love to get your feedback in the comments box below.

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