How to Handle a Jerk Client

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By Becky Mollenkamp, PCC

Here’s an axiom that drives me nuts: The customer is always right.

Sometimes customers are not only wrong, but they’re also total jerks about it.

If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. Stay in business long enough, and you’ll have to deal with at least a few lemon clients.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about no-good-pain-in-the-behind clients…

1. You teach people how to treat you. If you allow a jerk client to treat you poorly once, there’s a decent chance they’ll do it again (and again and again). Setting boundaries, speaking up for yourself, and demanding respect can be difficult, but they’re essential skills that every business owner must develop.

2. Up your screening game. The best way to not work with jerks is to not take them on as clients in the first place. Although not foolproof, a thorough and thoughtful screening system (discovery calls, applications, screening questions, etc.) can help weed out bad fits before they sign your contract.

3. Charge more. One axiom I do tend to believe is this: You get what you pay for (or what you charge). Bargain hunters can sometimes be the most difficult of all customers. They want everything, but expect to pay next to nothing. There are jerks with deep pockets, too, but competing only on price can meaning setting yourself up to deal with one jerk after another.

4. It’s not you, it’s them. Name calling, blaming, belittling… when jerk clients do these things, it’s easy to allow your self-esteem take a hit. If you did good work and were professional, then their behaviors are a reflection on them, not you. They are just trying to make themselves feel big by making you feel small. Don’t let them!

5. Be thankful. When a customer reveals themselves as a jerk, be grateful. Now you can end the relationship and free up that space for good clients. Yes, losing a customer (even a jerky one) can mean a painful financial hit. Nonetheless, I’d rather take that hit than endure an abusive client relationship. I love myself too much to suffer fools, no matter the price.

How to handle a jerk client with video

How to handle a jerk client without losing your small business