Have the Courage to Fire Your Client


In my opinion there are two situations that compel a business to reevaluate its relationship with a client. If any of the following situations exist it is probably time to seriously consider firing the client. The relationship with the client is probably now draining resources that could better be used for more profitable and enjoyable ventures.

Behavioral experts agree that dysfunctional people rarely have the ability to change their abhorrent behavior. From the PSF’s perspective it might now be impossible to successfully service the difficult client’s needs. Neither the PSF or the client can entertain any reasonable expectations of achieving their goals. At this point there is no business reason to continue the relationship with the client. It is important not to forget why the relationship was formed in the first place.

When he client ignores the terms of the service agreement

Professionals offer their clients a detailed service agreement. The client who cannot live within the terms of the service agreement is a serious problem for the business.  The agreement invariably contain explicit terms that govern the work that will be done, fees to be paid, the client’s rights and responsibilities and the consequences if either party fails to adhere to the agreement. Once the service agreement is signed the relationship becomes legal and takes on definition and order.

Unfortunately some clients ignore the terms of the signed agreement. They attempt to impose their own terms upon the professional. Basically the client insists, sometimes subtly and at other times explicitly, on dictating the terms of the relationship. Under these circumstances the relationship quickly loses definition and order. Before long the relationship has deteriorated into an agonizing experience for both the client and PSF. Since there is a disagreement over the nature of the professional relationship work usually suffers  or comes to a complete halt. No one is happy with the arrangement. At this point it is time to fire the client.

When the client fails to follow advice or instructions

The primary reasons why people seek the help of a PSF is to obtain assistance in resolving a problem or guidance in achieving a strategic goal. Basically the client contracts to receive the PSF’s advice and counsel on how to move forward. Yet, some clients shun the professional’s advice and refuse to follow his instructions. Difficult clients might try to implement their own strategies. They expect and demand that the PSF follow their lead. A client’s failure to follow instructions and advice prevents the business from properly servicing his needs. As time progresses the work flow become less efficient and effective, which  becomes obvious to everyone. The client blames the business for his difficulties and demands the impossible. The client erroneously thinks that “it is the firms obligation to make things right.” It seems like some clients expect the PSF to rent out its license. When presented with this situation, the business should end the relationship with the client.

Experts in the field of professional-client relations suggest that a PSF compile a detail paper trail of documents supporting the firing. This makes good sense. If you the need develops the firm can use the paperwork to defend its decision to end its relationship with the client. However I do not believe as some experts suggest that the paperwork can be used to convince the client that he was fired for good cause. If the client and PFS do not agree to go their separate ways, the client is likely to believe that there has been a long-running conspiracy to get rid of him. It is ironic that the client might be right.

There is no right way to fire a client. Every professional relationship is unique. Consequently the PSF must tailor it termination strategy to the particular relationship. The proper tactics should be employed given the nature of the relationship. I do believe that a client can be fired with tact . As a rule of thumb a professional should fire a client as he, the professional, would like to be fired.

Knowledgeable business gurus suggest that a PSF and its agents should always “remain professional” when firing a client. Yet, it is not clear what exactly this well used cliché really entails. Regardless of its precise meaning, sometimes it is impossible or impractical to remain professional. There might come a time when a client does not merit any additional considerations or time.

The administrators of PSFs are too often reluctant to take steps to fire a client. The people in charge find it awkward and difficult to even talk about unilaterally terminating an unproductive and unprofitable relation with a client. Statistics show that any vacillation in terminating a relationship with a problem client inevitably makes matters worst. The client should be given a concise and plain language notice of termination. The less said in the notice, the better. It goes without saying that the firm should take all reasonable steps to minimize any prejudice that the firing might cause the client.

Before the close today’s business take a few minutes to decide which of you clients will get the axe.

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