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How to deal with difficult customers

'I now have a strategy in place for recognising and avoiding clients who might prove to be potential problematic customers down the road.'
Nicole Jacobs, dux property group

Top tips

  • Be honest and respectful with the client – they could be a future referral
  • Look out for early warning signs
  • Be prepared to walk away
  • Agree to service terms before starting work

Handling troublesome clients with tact

Nicole Jacobs, director of buyer's advocate company dux property group says she's been pretty lucky over the years – most of her customers have been a joy to work with and her testimonials prove it. However there have been a couple of awkward moments where a client has been referred on - tactfully of course – by telling the client she is not able to fulfill their requirements and suggesting an alternative service provider.

'In one instance the client simply refused to pay for the service. dux property works on a retainer model and the client, although willing to purchase a property worth more than $3 million, wanted the search to be conducted for free. I work on a retainer plus commission model as this model is most commonly used in this market and it avoids the risk of a client not paying at the end of the process. In this case I suggested the client try another provider as I was unable to meet her needs to her satisfaction.'

Screen potential clients to avoid obvious issues

'My other experience with avoiding a client was just geography. There is a temptation when first setting up a business to say yes to all work, but in this case the search area was just too far away. This meant the cost to serve the client would have been greater than the profit advantage.'

'Having learnt the hard way of dealing with clients that are poor paymasters or are overly demanding, I have now a strategy in place for recognising and avoiding clients who might prove to be potential problematic customers down the road. I spend time at the beginning of the sales process identifying the appetite the client has for the services.'

Customer contracts can help

'I am up front about my fee structure and clear about the service the client will receive. And without exception I ask the client to agree to and sign an authority – a simple contractual arrangement stating the terms and conditions of service. If the client is unwilling to sign an authority then it is clear they don't value the service, are not committed to the process or are just fishing for information. At this point I feel it's best to walk away.'

The result

Nicole can now recognise and avoid clients who are likely to not pay or be too demanding. She asks clients to sign an agreement - if they refuse she walks away.