Picture of John Pyron, the Business Doctor

John Pyron, the Business Doctor

How To Recognize Toxic Customers

Dealing with toxic customers can be a great challenge. Still, if we know how to identify and handle an encounter with them well, we can avoid potentially damaging situations for our business or company. Conflicts can arise with co-workers, bosses, suppliers, and customers in companies. That is why it is so important to establish guidelines to avoid conflicts in all areas for better management. Thus, dealing with toxic customers is usually normal in the day-to-day work of many companies or freelancers, but some can become so problematic that they cost more than the profits they bring.

Likewise, on several occasions, we have heard that the client is always right, but you must bear in mind that there are limits. We must know that the customer is not always right, especially when damaging our company’s profits or resources.

How do we identify toxic customers?
Customer who doesn’t commit. This is the case of the client who has been conversing with you for some time. He got in touch via email, and you had a first phone meeting in which he explained his business situation, told you what he thought he needed, and asked for some professional advice. Well. Since then, he has called you five times, you have had a few meetings, and you have sent him a detailed proposal that took you days to make.

What to do to deal with these toxic customers?
Give him an ultimatum. Send him a final proposal with a corresponding budget, and if he is an important client, check that he is not using you to pressure other possible candidates for the job.

Customer in love
This type of toxic customer is the one who falls in love with you at first sight, with your work, your professionalism, and your way of communicating. However, shortly after starting to work with him, he tells you he has worked with three different designers (or consultants or accountants, etc …) this year. He fired them all. Neither was good enough for him.

What to do to deal with these toxic customers?
Discuss with him openly what expectations you have of your job. Let it be in writing so he can’t blame you later.

Indecisive customer
This client may also seem like a sweetheart at first. He is the typical one to whom everything seems fine. Or not. You are unclear about it because he does not get involved in your work. It lets you do and do and do. You have had several meetings to teach him how development and the project are going, and he has not even wanted to see the data you had to teach him. But, when the delivery day approaches, maybe the night before, he calls you to tell you that he has been reviewing the previews you sent him, which are not convincing.

What to do to deal with these toxic customers?
To avoid reaching that point, make the project conditions clear by contract with the client. It indicates how many intermediate reviews there will be, what changes will be allowed, and which ones will not once the final work has been approved.

Know-it-all customer
This type of toxic customer complains about everything. He is the one who has an opinion on everything, and, of course, his opinion is more founded than yours. He will try to impose his criteria at every step. He is the one who has read a little about any topic and thinks he is an expert.

What to do to deal with these toxic customers?
Leave it (a little) in evidence. Very subtly make him see that he does not know what he is talking about, that you are the expert, and that he has to trust your judgment because your judgment is the only well-founded one in the room.

Customer who wants everything for free
It is that client to whom everything seems expensive and who tries to haggle you down to the last penny.

What to do to deal with these toxic customers?
If he asks you for a discount, you can do it or not, depending on your situation. If you need clients, you can agree to lower your prices a little, but a little. Don’t let them trample you.

If he asks you to work for free, my advice is resounding: SAY NO. You are worth it. Your work is worth it. Starting is not bad, nor should it make you feel like you have to drop prices to get customers. Competing on price is the worst thing you can do to position yourself professionally.

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