When unappreciative clients take up too much time

Sadness to happiness
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Fed up of an unappreciative client? Before you cater to their every whim, perhaps it’s time to review whether they’re worth the hassle.

You probably have those clients. They’re the ones that continually grumble about the service or the price. No matter how much you bend over backward, it's never enough. Worse still, when an unappreciative client takes up far too much time it can have a knock-on effect on other clients. So, when is it time to have that “it’s not you, it’s me” chat with the client?

Take AccountingWEB member Cardigan’s recent client quarrel, for instance. In a supermarket car park at 6pm in the evening it dawned on them that a significant-sized client was more trouble than they’re worth. Rather than restocking for a family meal, the practitioner received news that the client brought forward a deadline to 9am the next morning.

But this is hardly a unique occurrence. “It feels almost like a job rather than running a practice,” described the member about the current client relationship. But what to do with this client becomes even hazier when you consider that the client is worth more than 50% of their practice.

Of course, the first reaction from their Any Answers peers was suitably summarised by AccountingWEB regular Marks: “If a client accounted for 10% or more of our income, I would start to worry that we would concentrate on them to the detriment of others.”

But the fact the AccountingWEB member is considering dumping a client of this magnitude demonstrates the impact their neediness is having on the rest of the practice, as the member explained:

“It is not so much the overall time spent on them, it is the constant disruption to our schedules. Deadlines and priorities are moved all the time. We have to put aside our other client work to attend to their needs. I feel like I am leaving the smaller clients down constantly.”

Dealing with clients – or “grumpy clients” as one AccountingWEB recently put it – is a perennial topic on Any Answers. It goes with the territory: some clients will appreciate the service, but there will always be some that grumble and moan.

Presuming that you want to avoid the inevitable confrontation, the AccountingWEB community shared how they have politely dealt with clients such as Cargidan’s time- slurping client. Here are some of the best answers plucked from those two recent headache-clients threads.

Price them away?

Although pricing away clients is a route many have taken, others are equally wary about taking this approach. For Mr Awol a price increase may deter that one client, but the ramifications of this could label you with the unfortunate reputation of being expensive.

“We get so much of our new business from referrals that it would be foolish to jeopardise that,” they said.

Paul Scholes also finds pricing a client out as “dishonest”. Instead, his answer to this brings us to the next tip: direct bluntness.

If price away doesn’t work, be frank

Even if you don't want to increase the price, you still have to ensure they don't rule your practice. Offering the following script as an example, Scholes suggests telling your unappreciative client: “It’s clear you are not happy with how we work/what we do and I’m not happy to continue on that basis, so can you find another accountant.”

There is an inherent fear when you stand up for yourself – but what have you got to lose, as Duggimon said:

“If they choose to no longer work with you then so be it, you're not losing anything since you were thinking of dumping them anyway; if they grudgingly agree then you can keep your fee income without suffering your practice being run by your clients.”

This approach, though, doesn’t have to be the end of the line for that client. It could, as Mark Lee mentioned in similar Any Answers thread, about managing the clients’ expectations.

To reboot the relationship, Lee said: “Being clear that you work for your clients by reference to when they supply their data and how easy they make it for you to help them. You then need to decide whether there is a price to treat their work as higher priority.”

In practice, this means that you’re open and honest that any overtime work would be charged at an additional charge.

It’s not you, it’s me

But could you be missing a trick if you just dump the client? Especially as AccountingWEB member fawltybasil2575 pointed out, that there is a demand from established practices for new clients.

“I believe that you should be seeking out, by various means (including approaching practice disposal agents) potential buyers of the “goodwill” in this client,” said fawltybasil.

“If you could establish good liaisons with one or more other accountancy practices, who are seeking additional clients, you could be in a position to (i) sell the goodwill to another accountant and (ii) advise the client that you consider that his best interests are best served by his agreeing to henceforth use “Brown and Cooper” as his accountants…”

By doing this you are able to unload the client and it also presents an opportunity to make a capital gain.

Actually, it is you – just say no

But failing all of that, there sometimes no other alternative than just being honest. Again, AccountingWEB regular Marks concluded: “I would just say that you only work with clients who you enjoy working with and who value your services.

“Say that you aren’t enjoying working with them anymore and you feel that they don’t value what you do for them and that life is too short to work with clients that you don’t enjoy working with.”

It’s polite, honest and as Moonbeam said, “people need to know their behaviour isn’t acceptable, even on the way out.”

How would you deal an unacceptable client? Would you dump them or can you change their behaviour with a stern one-on-one chat?with

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.

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11th Sep 2018 10:48

I recently attended a webinar given by Mark Wickersham on how to get more (money) out of your clients using the 'value - based' method of charging for services ('gold/silver/bronze') rather than the usual timesheet or fixed fee. I'm sure you've all heard of this method of fee charging. If not see here:
https://www.accountingweb.com/practice/practice-excellence/is-value-base...
The 'gold' being the service given to clients who keep phoning and need/demand more attention than just the basic annual accs and tax return (bronze). In other words - the 'gold' get charged more for more of your time. They agree to higher payment but in so agreeing are given rules to follow.
Dealing with difficult clients is not as easy as 'saying no' or 'dumping them' but teaching them what you are not going to put up with is key.
My blog dated 5 Feb headed 'Are we too good to our clients' detailed a couple of situations that we have all encountered. In the end I didnt sack them as they are good payers and have put a good number of clients my way in the past
https://www.accountingweb.co.uk/community/blogs/jennifer-adams/are-we-to...
I had a recent 'spat' with a client and was going to say 'no - go away' when I received a big box of chocs for something I'd (grudgingly) done for him with a note that said 'I know I'm a pain but...' so I kept him on out of guilt that I had thought him to be a pain.
Richard described the 3 best answers given under the original thread. There are apparently 10 different set ways of dealing with difficult clients depending on their level of annoyance. I'll try to pull them together in an article as an addendum to Richards excellent article.

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to Jennifer Adams
11th Sep 2018 18:46

That would be really helpful as I am really struggling with this at the moment with my clients. I've seen a real rise in emails to me with lots of exclamation marks as well which I find incredibly rude and I know I need to stop being so nice and start being more firmer with them, but this is easier said then done so it would be great to hear how other firms have tackled this issue.

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By towat
11th Sep 2018 11:22

One of the great joys of being self employed (Once established) is that you can choose not to work for someone if they are rude or if you just don't like them. On average I probably sack one client per year due to their treatment of me or equally importantly my staff and I don't lose sleep over it.
If they are nice people but they are very time demanding then I will increase my fees after discussing the reasons with them and/or politely suggest that we aren't able to provide the level of service that they require.
Invariably the lost fees are soon replaced by 2 or 3 new less demanding clients and staff morale is maintained.

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11th Sep 2018 11:44

I would agree with Paul Scholes - better to be up front with them and explain how THEIR constant mismanagement is causing disruption to the management of your Practice.

1. Charge them a premium rate for appointment changes and similar disruptions THAT YOU HAVE AGREE CONCEDED TO. After all, you may have already had an appointment that next morning at 09:00 and changing that appointment at such short notice will probably cause ill-feeling with that client (or they will see through the 'excuse' that you give them for changing their appointment).
Or
2. Insist on a monthly retainer (with historical analysis to support how you have formulated it); this is in addition to the usual charge out for any work involved of course!
I worked for one firm that successfully implented such a retainer, for one such client who was similalry 'all over the place' in his own time management, but was otherwise a profitable and excellent payer of his fees. The client accepted being charged a retainer (which was equivalent to @ 5 hours per month) to recognise the flexibility afforded to him.

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11th Sep 2018 13:03

Good article though we have to be aware all practices are at different levels, some are ....setting out, growing, maturing, shrinking, merging ..... can only set of rules apply to all.

One thing I would say is, trust me once you practice is up and running, when poor clients, who are probably underpaying leave, you wont miss them, on reflection you will be glad, some clients do not rate accountants and will continually look for the lowest cost provider fees <£100.

To be fair, most clients know when there record keeping is not up to scratch, maybe there is a golden opportunity to shake more money put of them.

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12th Sep 2018 08:34

The 3 main red flags we look at are

1) do they pay
2) do they answer emails and the phone
3) are they pleasant to deal with

Fairly simple but we can’t be continuously chasing debtors, chasing information or queries or accept rudeness. Plenty of good quality business around.

By all means increase pricing but this doesn’t always solve the problem. Outsourced credit control, quickbooks/xero and gocardless monthly help but we tend not to prejudice 95% or the client base if 5% are misbehaving. Thankfully most clients are great!

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