Some Clients Just Aren’t Worth Dealing With

Apr 20, 1998

Let’s face it. Some clients just aren’t worth dealing with. They are too much trouble, they are dishonest, they don’t pay, they don’t do what they say they will...and the aggravation that comes from trying to please these people just isn’t worth the reward. Of course, whenever this subject comes up, I have to comment. I would say there are only two reasons any of us in the A/E/P or environmental consulting business would find ourselves working for people like this: 1) we don’t have anyone else better to work for, or, 2) we didn’t know the client was going to be a problem until we had that first experience with them (we found out after the fact). Both of these situations could be avoided, however, if our marketing programs didn’t stink (most are non-programs), and we did a better job pre-screening new clients. The result is that most of us occasionally get stuck with a stinker client. I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the archetypal bad client types that we all run into in this business: Mr. Woe-is-me. This client always has a hard-luck story. You’ve heard them— “The market we serve is horrible!” “No one can make a profit.” “It’s impossible to sell any lots with these interest rates.” “No one wants space.” “The health care industry is in an upheaval.” “Our clients aren’t paying us.” No matter what, they whine, complain, and state and re-state their hard-luck case. As a cab driver once said to me, “You may want to ask this person why they don’t just lie down and pull the ground up over them.” But you know that you’re being set up for the big one! Ms. Can-you-make-this-one-little-change. This client is always very nice, but asks for lots of little favors that are outside the scope of your project. “Could you just run by and take a look at that drainage problem for me?” “Could we move that conference room (on the plan) just one more time?” “Could you call that other firm over there and tell them what you know about the history of improvements to this treatment plant?” Because these folks are nice they can easily take advantage of you, just chipping away at your good nature with their constant requests. Mr. I-am-a-complete-jerk. This is the client with the huge Euro-car with chrome wheels and gold emblems who never stops telling you how successful he is, but cannot seem to pay your bill on time. You know the drill— the casual mention of the fact that he has three kids in prestigious private schools, the reference to the family ski trip to St. Moritz, too much personal jewelry, vanity plates for the Mercedes, a new Harley “Wide Glide,” and the wearing of Ferragamo loafers to spread fertilizer on the 3.5-acre lawn. When he calls you, his secretary does the dialing. But when it comes time to pay, you’ll be lucky if you get your money a day before the bill is 90 days old. Mr. Overloaded. This is the client who is always too busy, always too frazzled to return phone calls or respond to e-mail messages. He never does what he says he will within the time allotted. But it doesn’t matter— he still expects you to be done with your work as originally planned. Ms. Never-happy. This client is never pleased with anything you do. It’s not creative enough, it’s not pretty enough, it doesn’t meet every functional goal, it’s not what she expected, it’s not something. The bottom line is that this client cannot have her needs met, no matter how many hoops you jump through (even flaming ones). Mr. Has-to-rip-off-his-consultants. We’ve all had those calls. You know, where the client (someone with “deep pocket investors”) wants to get together with you to talk about your firm handling all of their work. They are unhappy with the performance of their last consultants (your best competitors) and he wants to make a switch. But what he isn’t telling you is the truth— this guy is not happy unless he is taking advantage of someone. And his consultants are easy prey. After each rip-off experience, where he gets something he didn’t pay for from his consultants, he picks up the Yellow Pages and makes another phone call. He promises all kinds of profitable work, but first has “this one small job he needs your help with.” He then overworks you and makes you jump through flaming hoops, and your reward in the end is that he sleazes out of paying you! He’s bad, bad, bad news. I could go on and on. There’s no shortage of bad clients. They will seek you out and find you. But you can do your part to avoid them by making sure your marketing effort is ongoing and is providing you with choices of jobs and clients to work for. And you can also make a few phone calls and run credit checks on those new clients that sound too good to be true. They probably are! Originally published 4/20/1998

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