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