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Have you ever sacked a client?


Having just terminated a relationship with a client, David Moore considers the flawed client service model that sees the provider living on eggshells.

Right now I am feeling quite sick but strangely relieved. I’ve sacked a client.

I could have been nicer about it and I definitely should have done it earlier, but I still feel sick.

This decision represents at least a day of my life flying out the window for no discernable return other than angst.

You see, in the service game I mostly trade hours for dollars. So when I occasionally get to this point it usually involves cutting my losses for the bigger picture (i.e. less losses in persisting).

The amount of effort I have put into clients that they don’t pay for is staggering and, to be frank, stupid on my behalf.

There’s a raft of built-in “understood” when it comes to wooing and keeping clients. I feel like saying “more so in the computer business” but I’m pretty sure it just feels that way because that is where I am.

The problem with service is that some customers interpret the word as “I have you over a barrel because you want my money”. They don’t see it as “you are an expert and I am paying you to do something I cannot”.

The other problem with service is that, because you are trading time for dollars, you can’t spend too much time revisiting the same issue with any particular client. Humans tend not to change their mind all that often. If you find a client with a mind opposed to yours, you could do well to notice it early and politely decline. This is where I should follow my gut instinct more often. If I am honest with myself, I saw this coming.

Another problem with service is that it is not tangible and the results are entirely subjective. Finding the right pace at which to deliver the intangible is difficult. For me, when I find clients rushing me and pushing me down their train of thought I get flustered and tend to go into a default “satisfaction” mode (i.e. they seem to know what they want so I’ll give them that).This is dangerous. I throw away over 25 years of experience because someone I hardly know overheard their friends talking about something everyone should have.

I suppose this is a confidence issue. When I have more confidence and conviction than my client, then I allow myself to be an expert. If they have more, even if unfounded, then I don’t and can’t be bothered fighting it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not pushing false confidence and arrogance. I am talking about acknowledging your strengths and detouring around boulders in the road.

When offering service in a complex industry, the lifespan of your relationship with the client is hard to predict. Let me give you an example as to why.

In the computer you are looking at now there are hundreds if not thousands of components, both software and hardware. Each of those components was probably created by a team. Let’s use the number 10 as a conservative guess at the size of the team. These teams come from many companies who have to communicate well to make things work. Conservatively speaking, there have been over 10,000 people provide input to its overall behaviour. Their level of care varies greatly. When that computer misbehaves, who do you call and who do you blame? When the problem can’t be fixed,whose expertise do you question? Do you believe what you are told? Why do you think your expert is lying to you? When will you end the relationship as a result?

I can’t provide you any pearls of wisdom to close this article. I am not questioning if service models are flawed, I am wondering how flawed. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Suddenly, I feel like I am five years old and in the playground telling a friend he’s dropped because I heard he was going to drop me. I’ll get over it…again.

David Moore has 25 years experience in the computer industry and is now Principle PC Hater at ihatemypc.com.au.

Photo: Thrig