Ask Steve

Ask Steve: How Should I Deal with a Manipulative, Difficult Client?

The temptation is to fight this to the bitter end - but is it always the best route?

angry clientSteve,

I recently received a call from one of our “marginal neighborhoods.” The lady told me she was on a tight budget but wanted to get her carpet and upholstery cleaned. When I quoted her my best price she was shocked and embarked on a long, non-stop litany of all the problems life had recently thrown at her.

So against my better judgment I gave her a killer deal because, a) I felt sorry for her and b) I just wanted to get off the phone gracefully! So I sent my tech out and he did the job and it looked good when he finished. The homeowner was satisfied and she handed the money over in cash.

When he got back the shop, my tech complained to me that several people (who were drinking heavily) were tracking up the carpets while he was cleaning and the lady kept making him go over certain spots again and basically just bossed him around.

Four days later this client calls saying she went out of town and when she came back the carpets looked worse than before they were cleaned! So she wants another cleaning of the carpets on my nickel now. Remember that due to me dropping my price, the original job was a break-even deal for me at best!

I know everyone says the “customer is always right,” so I sent my employee out to re-clean the carpet. However, my tech returned and said people were inside the home but they wouldn’t answer the door. And since it is such a dangerous neighborhood, he didn’t hang around long. 

Two days later, this customer calls screaming at me and says our tech was supposed to come to the back door because she never answers the front door! Then she proceeded to tell me she is going to take me to small claims court to get her money back!

So I get her calmed down by saying I’ll come re-clean the carpets myself. Then when I’m about halfway there she calls and tells me not to come because it’s supposed to rain and she’s not home anyway. Instead, she says, she’ll call back “when there is a dry spell” because her front yard is nothing but Texas red clay and she doesn’t want it tracked in. So I wasted my time again!

Now just this Sunday she called my cell and my 13-year-old daughter picked up on it because I was out in the yard. This woman cursed my daughter out and hangs up! 

Then yesterday she calls and leaves a message that she wants me to come this week and clean it but I just don’t have the heart to return her call.

So Steve, long story short, should I put “my big boy pants on” and clean it again? Or try my chances in small claims court? I appreciate any advice you can give me and if nothing else thanks for letting me vent!

-Stumped in Plano, Texas


Wow, Stumped, I feel your pain. This stuff is emotionally exhausting. I call these problems “managerial dilution” and this is your true “cost.” After all, just reflect over the last month. My guess is the actual cleaning charges have sort of paled into insignificance. 

Whatever you do, Stumped, don't let your emotions get involved! The temptation is to fight this to the bitter end. Remember that this person has nothing better to do with her time and also is much more unscrupulous than you. Do not be vindictive. People like this are their own worst enemy. Instead, move on with my suggested third option… 

Send her money back and walk away! It is just not worth the emotional hassle (not to mention your time) to continue playing her game. I would send a respectfully-worded letter stating that a) you are sorry that you have not met her expectations and b) are returning her money in full according to your 100% satisfaction guaranteed policy. Send this in a certified letter (return receipt requested) and move on! 

And of course, then move this client into your “don’t book” list. Sometimes you really do need to “fire people.” So in the unlikely event she calls you again, just be too busy to work for her and suggest she call your least favorite competitor! 

My guess is you didn't follow your instincts on this one. Listen to them the next time and you’ll avoid one of my favorite sayings: “No good deed goes unpunished!”

It was tempting for me to review what you could have done to avoid this job going south on you. But honestly, with some people there literally is nothing you can do to prevent things from melting down! My guess is this was one of them. Walk away and learn from it. Life's university is not cheap but it is effective... 

However, for future work, here are a few reminders on dealing with discriminating clients. For example, do you pre-inspect first time clients before cleaning? Do you ask customers to initial any qualifications your tech writes down? Or when people are walking on the carpet, do your employees call it to the customer’s attention and then write it in on the work order and have the customer sign it? 

Also remember you don’t need to book every job. So some (not all) of these difficult clients can be avoided by sticking to your guns price-wise. Now the challenge is many people (including me) automatically ask for a better deal from any service person. So this asking you to “sharpen your pencil” doesn’t necessarily mean they are a price haggler. 

NOTE: I’ve written a free Special Report on how negotiate with these “Can’t you give me a better deal?” folks while still making a nice profit. Just email me at stoburen@StrategiesFor and put the words “price haggler” in the subject line.

Steve and ICS want to consult for you! For a personal reply, write Steve HERE with your questions, problems, struggles and challenges! Your help is on the way! Watch for a new “Ask Steve” every Thursday in the ICS eNews. You can register to receive the eNews by clicking here.

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