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How to Fix a Relationship With a "Bad" Client


As an accounting professional, you've likely run into a few situations where you've needed to disengage with a client. However, bookkeeper Billie Anne Grigg recommends not jumping to this solution automatically when you have a client who's difficult. Instead, she suggests accounting and finance professionals might be misinterpreting the situation, to everyone's detriment. 

May 18th 2021
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In the first article in this series, I postulated that there is no such thing as a bad client. There might be “bad fit” clients, but even those are a rarity. Instead, clients who come across as unreasonable and demanding - thereby earning the label of “bad client” - are really just fearful. They’re confused.

It’s our job to help them overcome that fear and confusion and transition them from a “bad” client into a good client. This will both improve relationships and increase your client retention rate. But how do we do this?

What Not to Do

A common teaching by many coaches I highly respect - and one I’ll admit echoing myself - is to raise your prices to counter unreasonable and demanding clients. The thinking here is that those who pay us the most value us the most. And because they value us, they cease to be unreasonable and demanding. Those who don’t value us will use the price increase as a reason to find another accountant or bookkeeper.

There’s also an underlying hypothesis that says if a “bad” client pays you enough, the money offsets the headaches they cause.

But what if we’re misinterpreting what is happening here? What if the clients who pay us the most aren’t unreasonable and demanding not only because they “value” us, but also because we spend more time with them? Because we take care to make sure they are happy with our service? Because we put them and their needs over our processes?

What if we are misinterpreting exactly what our highest-paying clients value? If that’s the case, then doesn’t it make sense to use a little extra effort to ensure all of our clients treat us the way our highest-paying clients do?

People Over Process

In our quest to design and operate a streamlined, systematized, and scalable firm, it’s easy to forget we are dealing with people who aren’t as familiar with our service and how we do things as we are. What is simple for us (because we created it) might not be simple for the client.

We see this most often with new clients, but it can also happen with long-time clients whenever we change our processes or when the client requests or signs up for additional services.

Think back to the last time you had to learn something new. Maybe it was your last job before starting your firm, or a new course you enrolled in, or a new app you wanted to use. When you started this learning process, you were excited, but there was also some fear and confusion. Maybe you spent some time with the FAQ section, or maybe you dove right in and decided to figure it out as you went.

With time, you got more comfortable, but not before you made some mistakes or asked some “dumb” (in retrospect) questions.

Unless you didn’t get more comfortable, and instead quit and left a bad review.

In your most positive experiences, chances are you found an excellent guide, mentor, or customer service representative who helped you learn the ropes. Someone who was patient with you and explained the “why” as well as the “how.” Someone you raved about.

This is what we need to do for our clients, especially at the beginning of the relationship or whenever our relationship with them changes.

Be a Good Host

Every client comes to us with their own baggage. Like a good host or hostess, it’s our job to meet the client where they are and help them with this baggage. There will be adequate time for processes and procedures later, but at the beginning of the relationship or when the relationship changes, it’s all about meeting the client or prospect where they are, making sure they are comfortable, and getting them up to speed.

It’s so important to be patient during this period. Take the client’s or prospect’s phone calls. Answer their questions. Provide them with the clarity they are seeking.

Help them become less fearful.

But won’t this create bad habits in the client you’ll have to break later? Absolutely not...because - even though we’re putting people over process - this is all a part of the process to integrate the prospect or client into your practice or firm.

In the next article, we’ll explore how to transition the client from this “hand-holding” stage of the relationship and fully integrate them into your firm’s processes.

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