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Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Letting Go of Difficult Clients

Arguably, the key to small business success is repeat customers, accomplished mainly by –let’s say it all together now –”keeping the customer happy.”  My business is no exception. I need customers as much as the next business owner. And my team and I work our tails off –sometimes bending over backwards –to make our clients happy. But there are times when, for the sake of my team and my own sanity, I’ve had to let go of customers –despite my need for business.

In my line of work, we endure some pretty degrading treatment in the name of “customer satisfaction.” Some of our clients act as though my team members are their servants for 2 hours, hovering over us as we clean, pointing out a spot here we missed, an area over there that needs to be re-done. Another client I suspect pees on the toilet –just to make sure we’re  doing our jobs. And week after week, one client is just never satisfied. No matter how much we twist ourselves –inside out, upside down –we could never seem to meet his ever changing demands. These customer interactions are demeaning, dispiriting, and exhausting.

It’s at those moments that I know I’ve got to cut ties with these soul-sucking clients because they are dragging us down, preventing us from accomplishing our true mission: to transform homes into havens and offer the gift of time to spend on the joys in life. This is never an easy decision. And mind you, I’m tempted to be defensive –to explain all we’ve done and just how unkind and unreasonable they’ve been to us.  But I always refrain.  In truth, I can see their brokenness.

I can see, for instance, the fear and frustration of one client who lost their full-time housekeeper of many years and whose wife is currently disabled. I get it. And I realize that no amount of cleaning on our part is going to fix his fears and frustration. That compassion allows me to remain kind. At the same time, it’s also because I know my own worth (and my team’s and my business’s) that we cannot continue to be treated that way. For all our sakes, I need to let this client go.

I always do this in an email –it allows me time to think calmly, to choose words carefully, and to document the conversation.  Here’s my general process:

  • I recap what happened. I stick to behavioral descriptions of both sides, avoiding name calling, accusations, and blame.
  • Then, I follow this pattern: Thank you, I’m sorry, and thank you again.
    1. I thank the client for the opportunity to serve them. This is a genuine show of gratitude. They took a chance on us, and I appreciate it.
    2. I say I’m sorry I’m canceling their service and that our service is not a good fit for their needs. I might elaborate on some of their needs and our ability to not meet them. Again, this is genuinely true. I don’t particularly like losing business and I am sorry that it couldn’t have been a better match.
    3. Finally, I thank them again for having served them during the times we did and wish them well in the future.

After I press send, I can feel that dead weightlifting and the influx of my own energy rushing back.  I have acted with kindness and integrity towards them while upholding my and my team’s dignity and value. Now we are ready to soar once again.

Until next time, Kristine

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