Before you read any further, let me point out that we love our clients! Right now, we have a strong roster of exceptional clients with whom we love working. These clients provide meaningful, challenging (in a good way) and worthwhile work in which we get to use our creative and strategic PR brainpower. So, yes – we have great clients on our roster right now, but this has not always been the case. In the 11-year history of the firm, the team has seen its share of difficult clients.
And, to better clarify what we consider difficult clients, here are just a few traits:
- UNsatisfaction is guaranteed. The client is never satisfied, no matter how many ideas we bring or tactics we suggest – or in some cases, no matter the success we bring.
- Communication is challenging (not in a good way). The client is unresponsive or really hard to get in touch with on a routine basis.
- The 411 is always a 911. Everything comes from the client last minute and with a need-it-now deadline.
- They want more than they pay for. This has a lot to do with setting expectations early in the relationship, but the most difficult clients expect more regardless of what was agreed upon in the beginning.
- There is no respect for personal time. The client regularly calls, texts and emails with an expectation of immediate response on a 24/7 schedule. Note: While it’s true that PR professionals often work outside of the normal 9-to-5 workday, we have to set boundaries to ensure that we get our personal time. A client who demands 24/7 access can be a huge drain on the account team.
In the early days of any business, owners are often willing to put up with difficult clients and customers in order to retain business and keep the company growing. However, there’s no doubt those young entrepreneurs daydream about the day when they can tell that client or customer to hit the road. Well, more experienced business owners may advise them to cut the cord sooner rather than later.
I recently listened to a podcast by Michael Hyatt on “What to do with difficult clients,” and he, too, noted that the sooner you cut the cord and fire difficult clients, the more productive and happy you – and your team – will be. He also said, “We get what we tolerate … We’re training people all the time on how to treat us, what they can get away with.” Wow. That one stuck with me, and I think it actually applies to both our personal and professional lives.
In this podcast, Hyatt refers to a matrix he created to categorize and prioritize clients. He started with “low-maintenance, high-profit” clients (the optimum client) as a top priority and moved to “low-maintenance, low-profit” clients as priority No. 2. And, while the “low-profit” side of the moniker may seem to push it to a lower priority, Hyatt says these clients have at least half of the optimum matrix going for them, and with just a little work, they can most likely become more profitable clients. The last two categories are “high-maintenance, high-profit” and “high-maintenance, low-profit” clients. While the latter seems to be an obvious cut, the “high-maintenance, high-profit” clients can be a bit trickier. This client can cause you to stop and really evaluate how high the profit really is and if it’s worth the level of maintenance the client requires.
In the cases of Obsidian’s past difficult clients, outcomes have varied. Some clients came off the roster before we made a move to let them go, and others required a difficult (but always respectful) conversation with our firm’s owner to part ways. In any case, rather than crying in her Cheerios over the lost business, Obsidian’s fearless leader simply moved right into replacing that difficult client with a great client. And, the team loves her for that!