Reading Time: 4 minutes

Being in the service industry, we’ve all experienced awful clients at some point in our careers. Everyone has their own nasty story, either that they themselves were involved with personally, one that they have heard about or perhaps one they directly witnessed happening to a colleague. So the question is, is it even worth having those difficult clients around? Or should we simply be telling them they are no longer welcome and sending them on their way?

Sadly, many businesses put up with nasty clients on an ongoing basis, either because they don’t feel they can afford to lose them or they simply don’t know how to have that awkward conversation. Others genuinely feel that all clients should be placated no matter their behaviour, no matter how rude and upsetting us may to employees, based on old adages like ‘the customer is always right’. Yes, your business exists to serve your clients and yes, where would you be without them, however, we are here to remind you that you have the right to draw a line in the sand when it comes to the levels of respect and kindness shown to your team/business by your clients. 

Wanting to seek a professional opinion on this, we asked Jay Chapman, a senior coach from the ZING project who has worked with over 100 hair and beauty salons across Australia and New Zealand, for his take on whether or not to part ways with your problematic clients, and his view was a resounding ‘yes’.

“Not everyone is your client and that is totally okay! Your business success is based on who you DON’T work with just as much as the clients you WANT to work with. I think the challenge is that breaking up with a client is much harder for most people than forming a new relationship, and because of this we often think more with our hearts than our heads, we give people the benefit of the doubt that maybe next time they will be nice! It’s a double-edged sword.”

Jay advises that the best move is often to communicate your needs and set expectations early and at the first instance of conflict, rather than letting it fester. “If someone isn’t treating you with respect, it’s your call to educate them on your boundaries, they can opt-in or out, and either option is better than letting it get out of hand. To be honest, when you break up with a client, 3 months later you can barely remember their names! True?! You need to rip the bandaid off fast and get it over and done with.

So how do you decide when enough is enough? As with most things in this industry, there isn’t a hard rule, it’s different for everyone. Some businesses are three strikes you’re out, while others cut ties at the first sign of rudeness. It all depends on the nature and/or frequency of the client’s transgression/s. If the client is a regular, why not seek the advice and opinions of your team? They may be able to offer a different perspective, or perhaps disclose more incidents you didn’t even know about. This is also a good opportunity to let your team know that you wouldn’t be the business you are today without them and that you won’t stand for rudeness or bullying towards them from your clients, which will, in turn, build trust and respect and ultimately bring you closer together.

Once you’ve decided to cut ties with a client, we would advise approaching it just like any other ending of a relationship – and definitely not by text message! Speaking to them in person is best, or otherwise over the phone, ideally with a text or email asking if and when they have an opportunity to speak with you, instead of springing it on them out of the blue. 

Remember to be kind and respectful, and all of the qualities you expect from your team, your favourite clients, and others you choose to surround yourself with. As an example, you could lead the conversation with “It’s come to my attention that there has been an incident between yourself and a staff member….” go on to explain the incident/s, keep it brief and factual. Also keep in mind that there are always two sides to every story, so it may be a good idea to hear your client’s point of view before continuing. If this doesn’t change your mind, or they become aggressive, finish the conversation with something along the lines of “we have always appreciated your business, but we don’t tolerate rudeness and do our absolute best to maintain a happy, kind and peaceful team culture, this is the most important thing for us. I think as a business perhaps we simply aren’t the right fit for you.” Don’t frame it as dumping them, but instead (again, just like a relationship!) not a good fit for one another other and from the position of being better serviced elsewhere. There is a personality to match everyone, and if theirs doesn’t match yours, that’s just fine. To reiterate, during this hard-to-have conversation, be patient, factual, professional, open-minded, and above all, calm.

Let us impart you with a few final words of wisdom before you sign off your device and pluck up the courage to engage in those awkward conversations – as Jay says “Dig deep into your inner assertive self and set those boundaries, you will thank yourself for it.”