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

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....