Posted by: peterhact | June 20, 2012

Clients from hell, or the best way to learn about your business?

Clients from Hell. Every sales, support or technical team member can mention an experience with a Client from Hell. But when you look closely at them, they are not so much an annoyance, they are more a guide to let us know how we are doing with respect to the support, sales and overall customer engagement our companies have with them.

There are reasons that companies attract these clients, and they are defined as:

1. When we were a small company, these customers were our first. Every new business, when starting out, is never picky about their clients. Any business is good business. so the customer has some strange attitudes towards us, at least they are paying the bills. Quirks that will later become from hell traits are overlooked, often to resurface as the undesirable client from hell. The client hasn’t changed, you have.

2. They are a friend of the family. How many times have you helped out a friend of the family on the insistence of a partner, a parent or a sibling? These are the easy leads that we all get from our families, no marketing required and if they turn sour, we just can’t let the family down. I have been told of a couple of businesses who prayed that the family would have a falling out with the friends, so that they could sever their connection with a couple of these clients. Most times, you are just going to have to put up with them.

3. when we bought out our competitor, they were part of the client list. It seems that no-one thinks about failing companies, or what could be the reasons for their failure. In a lot of cases, the companies fail due to the inaction of their clients – no bills paid, no products purchased, simple problems becoming complex solutions. if you buy a competitor’s company, you gain a few great new clients and a lot of clients from hell. The best approach is to separate the two types straight away, or you will be stuck with the clients from hell. Identify the clients who are openly hostile towards you, try to keep the sales people on from the other company that have a rapport with them and leave them to get on with selling to them.

4. When something goes wrong. Every customer is a great customer when everything is going right. When it all goes wrong, however, the from hell traits surface. Things that you thought were minor are now major. Every customer relies on the old chestnut that America has given us – If you can’t fix the problem right now, I will sue you. It is all your fault, obviously. Never mind that the customer downloaded that patch for their computer you told them not to. Or the phone update that the technical community has been talking about as it is a fake. Or the website that they insist is important for their business, the one with the strange people wearing little or no clothing, that payloaded a virus that has wiped their data.

It is your fault that it has all gone pear shaped. The from hell traits kick in. They have lost all their data, why didn’t you build a better system? “I know it is 5 in the morning, but my computer isn’t working. Stop sleeping and fix it”. which leads us to the “I am not paying for your extra hours fixing my mistake! I didn’t make a mistake, you did!” Sometimes there is swearing. Most of the time it is from the client. sometimes, usually at 5am, it is the technician. Once the problem is fixed, there may be a belief that it will all be better now. Wrong. The client from hell is now seething with indignation or embarrassment. The worst thing a company can do is back down, when they were right. The from hell customer realises that this is one way to get the “upper hand”.They will exploit this behavior, often.

Of course, the client from hell isn’t just your problem. Every single company that provides a service to another company, individual or department has these particular clients. You may be a client from hell to a distributor, the distributor may be a client from hell to a vendor and the board? lets not go there.

The reason that the client from hell is of value (though at 5am you probably can’t see it) is that you can adapt your company behaviors to meet their challenges. there are a couple of things that can be done to sort out a client from hell scenario and turn it into a positive win – win for everyone.

1. Set the expectations up front. In writing. Setting expectations of what you are looking to do, when you will respond and what the services you provide will cover will ensure that there aren’t any grey areas if something goes wrong at a client site. It also allows the client to raise other components that they feel need to be included, and builds a better solution with them.

2. Create methods of controlling the access allowed by the client. The client may own the equipment, the software and the data, but they usually aren’t technically savvy when it comes to repairing a problem, saving data from a failed drive, recovering a system that has been corrupted. The reason that you are there is to ensure that they focus on their business expertise – not yours. If the client wants access to administrative rights to change, modify or remove components of their systems, get it in writing. Put the requirements that they have into the document created in point 1 – that way, there can be no blame cast on you.

3. Provide a managed service that covers any possible issues as a paid service. Be creative with the levels of service you provide. Creative in this instance means that you provide every possible solution to a problem that may arise, but you ensure that it is componentized. If you sell a managed service that consists of a base offering with components that can be added on in the event that the problems arise, you ensure that the solution is tailored to the needs of the client. They aren’t buying services that they will never need.

4. Be flexible to handle objections. Being rigid when laying down the law with respect to objections about cost, time or supply leads to a client who is not keen to do anything with you that isn’t already documented. If there are potential changes with respect to an environment that could make it better or less problematic, be flexible so as to allow discussions around which parts are necessary and which can be a future plan. Document the results for use in the managed services revision.

5. Meet with the clients regularly. If you are always there on a regular basis, the chances of a client leaving without warning are minimised. Clients need structured meetings so that they know what is wrong, what is right and what needs to be fixed. If you don’t tell them, how can they fix it?

Clients from hell are just clients. the label is put on them by every single company, vendor or distributor that they interact with. What would happen when you went to the supermarket / a retailer / a specialty shop and you received bad customer service? Would you say something? would you complain?

Do you know what the person on the other side of the counter would think you were?


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