Disaster Recovery

10 surefire ways to alienate your clients

An angry client is likely to become an ex-client. See how avoiding the missteps on this list can help you prevent client meltdowns.

We depend upon our clients for our salaries, for spreading the word, and (when they are good clients) for keeping us from losing our mind. But the relationship is a two-way street, and we have to do our best to make sure that we don't make our clients angry. If this happens, they will abort the relationship and we will be back to trolling for clients to replace those who have jumped ship.

I've discussed plenty of ways to make clients happy. But I've never gone the opposite route and illustrated the ways that are guaranteed to make clients unhappy. It's time to consider that angle so everyone here on TechRepublic can see what NOT to do.

1: Be perpetually late

That's right. I know support engineers who are constantly late for their appointments. But what can you do? You're working one appointment and it's taking longer than you thought. When that first appointment looks like it's going to eat into the time of the next appointment, the only professional thing to do is to call the next appointment and let them know that something has detained you. This way, you can reschedule their appointment if necessary, giving them top priority. That last bit is crucial, as the lost time/work must be made up to them somehow, and making sure they get priority is the best way to do this.

2: Badmouth other clients

What exactly do you think goes through the minds of your clients when they hear you badmouthing other clients? They think one simple thing: "I wonder what they say about me?" And they would certainly be justified in wondering that. So ask yourself a question: What purpose does speaking poorly of other clients serve? I'm guessing the answer to the question will be "None." Your best bet is to avoid speaking of your clients to other clients. Besides, if you don't have anything good to say...

3: Send in late or incorrect bills

Billing is one of the more uncomfortable aspects of business to some people. But it is an inevitability. If you want to pay your bills, your invoices must be sent and paid. But sending out late or incorrect invoices will only frustrate and anger your clients. Create a billing policy and stick to it. Make sure billing is sent within 24 to 48 hours and no later. And always, always double-check your invoices. Incorrect work will delay the payment process, so bill correctly the first time.

4: Make excuses for not fixing a problem

We all occasionally come up against something we simply can't fix. No one is 100% capable 100% of the time. And when you're confounded, don't make up excuses. Your best bet is to do one of two things: Inform the client you are going to need more time to research the particular problem or bring in another engineer to take a look. There's no shame in knowing your limitations, and your clients will appreciate your being up front and honest instead of wasting billable hours trying to fix something you have no idea how to fix.

5: Sell unnecessary hardware and software

A new client we brought into the company had six Windows servers running, each running a different purpose. Had this client been a large company, I would understand the need for such hardware. But this was a beauty salon, and it would have been fine with just a single SBS box. When they found out they were sold far more hardware than necessary, they were furious. And you can bet they spread the word that their previous support company isn't trustworthy and should be avoided at all costs. Don't do this. Don't oversell hardware because you have a client with deep pockets. Sell the client what they need, not what will pay for your second mortgage.

6: Fail to make (or keep) backups

My primary job is monitoring and fixing backups form more than 60 clients. I have to make sure those backups run smoothly every day or else things could get seriously ugly. What happens when a client loses a server and the backup is out of date? Whose fault is that? Who's going to get blamed and lose income and clients? It certainly isn't the client. If you are supposed to be backing up your clients servers, make sure those backups succeed every time they run.

7: Lose client data

Along the same line as backups is client data. That data is precious cargo to the client. If you lose it, the client may not be able to do business. If you have important data in your hands (be it on an external drive or sitting on one of your in-house servers), make sure that data is secure and backed up. Do not ever lose client data... for any reason.

8: Be rude to client employees

Employees talk. If you're rude to a client's employees, they will march right up the food chain to make sure what you said is passed on to those who make the hiring/firing decisions. And you will be let go for it. Companies tend to be very protective of their employees when it comes to outside influences. When you have any contact with employees of a client, treat them with the same respect you show the person who hired you for the job.

9: Hit on client employees

In the same vein as above, do not hit on employees of a client. I don't care if you're staring into the liquid eyes of a supermodel look-alike, keep the social interaction out of the equation or you might well find yourself on the business end of a pink slip -- or worse. In fact, I would take this one step further by saying don't fraternize with the employees of clients, even outside the business place. Should that relationship go south, so too will your relationship with the client.

10: Give out client information

I shouldn't have to say this, but I have witnessed it firsthand. If you have information about a client (be it personal, professional, legal, or illegal) do not, I repeat, do not give that information to anyone else. In some cases, there is an implied confidentiality shared between you and your client. In other cases, there is an explicit confidentiality shared (complete with your signature on it) between you and your client. Violating this confidentiality could not only cause you to lose much needed business, it could also land you in court. Don't do it. Don't think about doing it. Don't even pretend to think about doing it.

Keeping your clients

In a perfect world, lists like this wouldn't be necessary. But the world is far from perfect, and I know plenty of support engineers and IT pros who seem to think they're immune to the things that could cost them clients. Not one thing in the above list is worth losing your income for. So make it a habit to avoid engaging in anything remotely resembling the actions on this list.

Additional resources

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

27 comments
premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

To set the expectations of what you will have to tolerate for the vendors with which you will need to deal in the workplace. And no, there is no solution: You just wait for them, pay their price (some negotiation works, but it's next to useless since they pretty much control the marker -- [insert major vendor here] they control the market or at least your type of business market) and as for excuses, they don't even try to be creative any more. Reboot. Maybe that will make it better.

PhilM
PhilM

Isn't that the truth. I worked for an IT solutions company where a colleague removed a NetWare 4.1 SBS and replaced it with three Windows Servers ... for 17 users. The embarrassment.

Creeping Critter
Creeping Critter

What if per se a client is so whatever the word is that they cant follow procedures even to log in. Ive showed the client many times how to log into a computer and still she either forgets the username and password or just doesnt know how to login. Ive showed the client numerous occasions. She gets herself locked out. This happens about 3-4 per week. Had her write it down on a piece of paper and stick it in her purse, problem persists. After 3 months of repeating this in a professional and kind manner I reported it to her supervisor. Unfortunately this went up the ladder to my boss and i got in trouble for it. How was I supposed to correctly deal with this?

Justin James
Justin James

... is just as bad as being late, if it keeps happening. J.Ja

Jimbfo
Jimbfo

it takes one badd apple to ruin a bushel! one bad customer experience and it gets talked about one good one the customer stays.

jperick.mbei
jperick.mbei

I find it interesting that losing client data comes to #7. I would have listed it #1. No client will sue you for being late, or badmouthing another client. But if you lose client data (I am assuming this is private, sensitive, or intellectual property data) you can be sued, fined and, above all, your reputation will suffer seriously, which could result in loss of business. Well, I do not condone badmouthing. However, in a business context, to avoid one customer or client "badmouthing" you, just act with utmost integrity. Act ethically at all times, always remembering that treating one client/customer well can win you at least one new customer/client. But mistreating one is likely to hurt your business because the customer/client will always share this bad treatment with at least one other customer/client. We all know that. If you worry about being badmouthed, that may mean you recognize having engaged in unethical practices with at least one of your customers/clients. If you apply the Golden Rule with your customers/clients, you need not worry about one badmouthing you.

llee
llee

Most of these points are common sense, & I agree with just about all of them--except for a small part of #10: "If you have information about a client (be it personal, professional, legal, or illegal) do not, I repeat, do not give that information to anyone else." If a client is doing something illegal & you are aware of it, shouldn't that be reported to the appropriate authorities? Granted if it's something minor (e.g. using a single copy of bootleg software) I could understand not being a tattle-tale, but what if it's something that could cause a major disaster or endanger people's lives? Where would you draw the line in terms of keeping your client's "illegal information" to yourself vs. reporting it to someone?

chris.lambert
chris.lambert

Number 9 is a difficult one. I've had a relationship with 2 members of staff from my clients. 1 didn't work out, but we have stayed good friends and the other I'll let you know about. You do have to be careful with what happens. But most people meet there partners through work so it's going to happen at some point. Just don't be a total Moron if/when it happens. So far neither have had any impact on my work and when I am at the clients site I am always professional and don't go down the couple road. What happens outside of work stays there and thats the best way to play it.

robinfgoldsmith
robinfgoldsmith

Keep clients apprised of status. Especially, let them know of potential problems before they occur; and, as said above, fix your messes, and make sure they know what you've done to fix them. Think and act with respect to their interests, and yours will follow.

Shadeburst
Shadeburst

RE #9, "Don't hit on client employees." I agree with the "hit on" part. If you're single, that means every relationship you've ever had up to now has failed, so what makes this one different? Don't risk your steady income for a one-night stand. If you're looking to cheat, don't imagine it won't harm your standing with the client. Fraternization is different. Especially if you're self-employed, you're not only a technician, you're sales, marketing, finance, warehousing, distribution, everything. If your key contact at the client asks you to come along to the game on Saturday, sure, slap them down and say you don't socialize with low-lifes like clients. See how far that gets you.

Sean Byrne
Sean Byrne

When I use to work for an IT support company up to 2005, a very common issue I've seen when visiting a new client for the first time is that their previous IT support kept all the media, product keys and sometimes even the accessories that came with hardware! While it's not as much of an issue today with downloadable replacements for software, back then it was quite awkward to get replacement installation media, especially with little other than an old invoice for the software. It often made me wonder how many clients were running pirate copies that their previous supplier charged for! For example, with one client that had a new HP Proliant server installed, all the accessory parts that usually come with the server that were not in use were taken by their previous IT supplier. Getting replacements was not straight forward, especially the propietary parts HP servers use.

algreig
algreig

I used to be in automotive, where we offered warranties on our products and our service. We found that by being quick to honour our warranties, when mistakes happened, and to fix them at the customer's convenience our reputation was enhanced beyond what one would expect for a fault free record. Customers are not stupid, they understand that human beings can make or cause mistakes, but a correct and rapid positive response to a warranty claim, can set the referral wheels rolling in your favour. Because no-one knows if you have any integrity until you get a chance to prove it. If you handle mistakes well they will stay (unless you stuff up on every job)!

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

As well as unnecessary hardware and software, don't be guilty of selling them more of your time than is justified, and don't stick an exhorbitant margin on things you sell them that they could easily buy themselves. Don't talk down to them - not being a computer expert is not a sign of stupidity, or even ignorance.

eclypse
eclypse

Not being a consultant, I can't say how this would work in other places, but if you "held her hand" for three months, then she should have been the one in trouble or written up for not knowing how to perform a basic job function. I know she would be in trouble/written up at our company for wasting other peoples' time and resources for three months when they could have been doing other, more important things. The only other comment I saw here that made sense was about letting your boss know about the problem and talk to her boss about it, but I'm not sure that applies to you. I suppose you could have asked her supervisor if there was someone else who could help her out. If they're unhappy, sounds more like it should be because you let it go on for three months instead of cutting her off after three or four days. If someone can't log in to a computer after being shown how more than three times (and there is no technical problem and it's not like @lazerous200 suggests - that they are doing it intentionally - which, again, should not be your fault), that does suggest that person is not qualified for the job position they have - especially when one of the requirements for it seems to be using a computer. That's almost like being a mechanic and only being able to turn your ratchet one way to get a bolt out, but not knowing how to flip the lever to make it turn the other way to put it back in. I don't think that person would last long as a mechanic if they couldn't do that after three months...

mpukey
mpukey

It's hard to report someone's failings in any case, but maybe you could have gone to YOUR boss first and gotten some suggestions. If those did not work, let your boss and her boss talk it out. Going directly to her boss also had the problem of letting your boss get sidelined when he learned of this problem from her boss instead of you.

andy
andy

Did you think about installing a password utility for her.... these folks are paying you to make their problems go away and for every user having this issue there will be several more that are frustrated with the login procedure. Maybe instead of telling her supervisor, you could have come up with a solution that is better for everyone (and made some extra $$ installing it.)

lazerous200
lazerous200

Sounds like she was more interested in you. I would have scripted it for her and kept it on the QT so all she would have had to do was click on it.

chris.lambert
chris.lambert

if it keeps happening then you need to look at why it keeps happening. But if you tell the client your running late, then they are going to be a bit happier that they know, rather than you just turning up when your ready. I've done it several times and explained why. I've found most clients are more than OK with it because they know.

andy
andy

I can not imagine a client ever taking legal action because you reported child pornography found a business computer, and I wouldn't think twice about reporting it. Illegal or not bootleg software is a business issue, our clients fully expect us to keep their business private. I can not think of the business case for child porn and feel no obligation to keep it private although I would give client a chance to call the authorities before I did.

chris.lambert
chris.lambert

I see a lot of clients both Business and Residental. While I may not be running to Microsoft everytime I find a copy of Office that I'm not sure on how legal it is, I certainly draw the line on some aspects. There are somethings that people should not be able to get away with. For all you UK people on here what woudl have happened had PC World not imported the poilce about the images they found on G Glitters PC? For anyone not aware of the story take a look here. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/517604.stm You just need to have a little common sense about these things.

relawson
relawson

met my wife at work. I was not a contractor but she was my "client" in a different sub-department

kingttx
kingttx

OK, there are some folks who don't care if they are a jerk as long as they can get ahead of you. There are others that are being jerks and actually don't know they are!

Cayble
Cayble

I think there has to be some qualifications on the whole "hit on" issue. It is generally a very poor idea indeed to hit on client employees. It is particularly bad in many cases because there are those who make a practice of it, to one degree or another, and in many instances they are lousy at it and seem to have no idea how unwelcome it is. After awhile employees will literally cringe when they hear one of these types is coming in and its usually not long after that someone has to lay down the law and thats never a good thing. For what should be obvious reasons. But we also need to take a reality break on this issue. Not "hitting" on client employees is one thing, outright avoiding what looks to be a potentially wonderful relationship is another. Under certain circumstances it can become quite apparent that someone who works for a client may have a potential romantic interest in you and if the feeling is mutual this of course is something quite different then your standard "hitting" on employees. And quite frankly, its often unfair to suggest that something as important as a potential long term/permanent relationship should be scuttled for no other reason then there are potential pitfalls. Its a callous and unrealistic view on the importance of work vs. the importance of a relationship with a significant other. The thing is this; if you are faced with one of these potential relationships you had better think it through. Only go into it with your eyes wide open because there are potential pitfalls. In many instances it doesn't hurt to express your concerns about the potential pitfalls to the potential significant other and perhaps even to the employer in some cases. If your one of those people who has trouble reading people and relationships, or if your one of those people who doesn't do well in long term relationships, you had really better think twice because if you create a disaster trying to get into or out of one of these relationships you have nobody to blame but yourself. The bottom line is tread carefully across this bridge because when you start out it may look like heaven on the other side but it could be hell in disguise, or it could be your one of those people who just cant tell the difference between heaven and hell until your smack dab in the middle of it, and if the latter is the case, just stay away.

relawson
relawson

yes, that is 100% ignorance! I had this conversation with someone over the weekend. For some reason, you can't call someone ignorant or say they're ignorant without most people being "offended". Everyone thinks that word is bad. Here is the kicker, those who get offended at the word ignorant, are ignorant to the meaning!!! heh

chris.lambert
chris.lambert

Problem then becomse Number 9. don't hit on clients! Could have tried producing a screen grab of each stage that she needed to do in order to login. At least then you could ask her to check tell you what stage she was at.

chris.lambert
chris.lambert

They are very different. But had PC World thought of what a client has on his PC is his business then the outcome would have been very different. You also need to understand the level of intelligents that an average PC World tech has in the UK. I swear I've seen smarter Hamsters! But the point I'm making is that the Law is the Law. I don't run off to Microsoft everytime I see a copy of office that I'm not 100% on. But I do speak to my client about it and let them know the possible outcomes from having it.

Editor's Picks