Stacy Stuff Headline
We’ve all had an experience with a crappy client. You know the kind - they complain about fees, pick apart every invoice, expect you to drop everything because they need a call RIGHT NOW, the ones that continue to be disrespectful and creepers. SCOPE CREEPERS.
Here is one story of such a client, and how we dealt with it. You’d think that after 10 years, this wouldn’t still happen, but every once in a while, it just does.
Because of a prior, non-bookkeeping related working relationship with this person, I ignored the red flags that would normally make me turn her away. After 10+ years of this, I’m really good at turning away clients that even give me a slightest whiff of being a jerk.
What were those red flags? To tell the entire story would be way too long, so I’ll just list them quickly.
Red Flag #1: Client began the first conversation about engaging us with an emphasis on her“tight” budget - before I even had a chance to explain what we do, how we do it, or what we cost. I should have run away right at this point. This is almost always a sure sign of someone that will fight you on every invoice and/or take forever to pay, and I even thought about that as she was saying it.
Red Flag #2: After we did our QuickReview(™), she only authorized a small amount for the Clean Up - as in: “I know all this stuff needs to be done, but only do this part.” I tell her: “Okay, but your books still won’t be right.” No matter. Her reaction was the same. Knowing that we were most likely going to be doing monthly work for her, I assumed she would see our value and pay for the rest of the clean-up down the road. Hahahahaha…
Red Flag #3: The client complained SO MUCH about the invoice for additional work THAT SHE AUTHORIZED after her initial budget had been reached. Despite the fact that our engagement clearly states that work outside of the original scope will be billed separately and that she gave verbal and written approval for us to do the work. I ended up just voiding the invoice.
I know. I KNOW. Trust me, I know. You’re asking yourself at this point, why even keep working with this client?? My partner, Shannon and I even had that conversation, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. We sent the new engagement letter for monthly services, she signed it, and we prorated her first monthly billing because we were starting almost a week into it.
Then, just 10 days into this monthly service engagement, we get a last minute demand for a phone call, because it was her “busiest week” (something she had never mentioned to us) and had to get all of her past due receivables in order - which was not included in our monthly engagement letter.
I very politely reminded her that this was beyond the original scope, that we had already gone beyond that because we were not able to do a full review/clean up, and she had never informed us about the volume of transactions from EventBrite and Authorize.net. I communicated that she would be billed hourly at our full rate. I also added if this wouldn’t work for her, I would gladly refer her to another ProAdvisor. She immediately replied to cancel services.
She then spent the entire day flinging accusations at us, all the while still demanding a phone call - after she had cancelled services. She accused us of not being clear about the lead time required for scheduling phone calls or appointments - I sent her screen shots of texts and PDFs of emails, that were prior to her engaging us, stating this was common practice. She accused us of not doing any work in the 10 days we had been working on the monthly engagement - I sent her a 54 page PDF of the QBO Activity Log that detailed the hours of work Shannon had done. She accused us of “price gouging” because we informed her that services outside of the scope would be billed hourly - I sent her the signed copy of the engagement letter she signed that states this policy.
The final straw for me, and one that made my blood boil was this line in an email:
“I have reached out to Shannon...with little response except she was busy with her kids...twice in the past few weeks. No matter what the reason, my personal world would never be used as an excuse for not speaking to a client.”
I’ve never had to do this, in 3 years of having people working with and/or for me, but I had to go in to Shannon’s emails to find the communication to which she was referring. The “twice” she was referring to? The first was that the previous week, she’d requested a phone call at nearly 5pm, and Shannon was at her son’s practice. Shannon handled the situation beautifully - back and forth via email for that entire evening and most of the next day to make sure she was taken care of - and according to the client’s replies - she was very pleased. The second was that Shannon was unable to speak to her (as per the client demand) later in the current week because the time the client dictated to Shannon was during a Halloween party at Shannon’s daughter’s school, where she would be volunteering.
When I read that sentence, I was livid. I asked Shannon to decline any calls, and not respond to any more texts or emails. I then immediately refunded the prorated fees we had charged, despite having already put in more than double the time we allotted for her account for the entire month. I emailed her a copy of the credit memo, and politely indicated we were finished.
I should have just refunded the fee after she canceled and not engaged any further - logically; this was the best route to take, but… I just couldn’t. I did not like the accusations she was making. Shannon and I work really hard to take care of our clients. I felt her mudslinging was so unwarranted, so undeserved and so disrespectful to Shannon; after Shannon had, from my perspective, bent over backwards to make sure she was a satisfied client.
I felt compelled to let her know, as politely as I could, that she was out of line. Not that it mattered in the long run, because people like this will always lash out and steamroll others until they get the outcome they’re expecting.
Two things to take away from this experience:
- Always trust your gut. If you get even the slightest hint that a client is going to be difficult - don’t take them on. It’s okay to say no.
- Don’t work with clients that don’t respect you. Whether it’s your time, experience, your personal life - it doesn’t matter. Nothing will ever be good enough for them, and it’s not worth the stress.
Moving forward, when I do consulting/coaching with other ProAdvisors, I’m going to include this as a key part of our sessions - to help them really embrace this entire concept: don’t work with clients that don’t value what you’re bringing to the table.
At Kildal Services, we’re in the process of finishing up 2015 planning. We don’t do anything fancy, no detailed business plan, just a shared google doc. In that document, in the section about our clients, I’ve added something. It now clearly states our second goal for next year: Don’t work with clients that suck. Will we be 100% successful? Probably not; but I will do everything I can, turn down whatever project, no matter what the fee, in order to try to achieve that goal.