The Client Fight

Working in a customer service business, it isn’t unusual to encounter a particularly difficult customer. We all know the type; impossible to please, always looking for the easy way, and usually trying to get something at a discounted price. These customers don’t only exist in retail, contrary to popular belief, and they’re just as difficult to get rid of in a business to business market. Unlike retail, however, we get to make the decision at some point that our relationship is no longer functional or healthy for either or us. But how do you get to the point where you can say “it’s not me, it’s you.”?

In social media, some clients will regard our work with the eyes of a person who understands the convenience and benefit of outsourcing. Other clients, however, will nickel and dime and contradict your advice until the working relationship is toxic, and one of you is waiting for the other to pull the plug. I’ve encountered several types of clients during my years in the social media field; the yes man, the no-news-is-good-news guy, the arguer, and everyone in between. I’ve had significantly memorable clients that go in both directions, and they’re usually identifiable on day one, but not always.

I won’t say I haven’t made mistakes in accepting clients based on first impressions. Some of them are really good at psyching you up for their business. They are enthusiastic and filled with zeal; everything you say is gospel. They appear to be a dream client, and without notice, the rug is quickly yanked out from under you and you’re left asking yourself how you could’ve been so wrong. There are clear signs that your business relationship isn’t going to work out, and even clearer signs when it is time to nip it in the bud.

  • No Satisfaction – The first sign in a toxic business relationship is that the client is not satisfied with any you do. Of course, in the beginning, it is a working relationship and you have to find each other’s rhythm. What I’m talking about, however, is the client that asks for specific changes, and when they’re made, he wants something different. During the beginning phases of the working relationship, it can be expected that you’ll have to dance a little to find the right give and take, but if it’s impossible to reach an agreement, ever, it may be time to part ways.
  • Combative Attitude – Clients tend to be incredibly sensitive about their businesses, and rightfully so. Their business is their baby, and more often than not they’re incredibly protective. Although we’ve got to accept some of their protectiveness, we need to remember that we’re trying to run a business as well. When a customer becomes offensive or insulting, it isn’t acceptable behavior. I once had very clear instructions from a client, and I followed them to the letter. He wasn’t happy with the end result, so I offered to rework the piece and resubmit. I sent this offer in an email and was almost instantly greeted with a hateful response that involved the client referring to me as stupid. This type of attitude is not conducive to a working relationship, and cannot be tolerated.
  • Unwillingness to Communicate – In social media, our connection with the customer is how we know if we’re doing a good job. More often than not, we seek their approval before publishing specific blog pieces or content updates. A client that refuses to respond and give their approval until after it has already gone live may seem like small potatoes in comparison. It is equally as frustrating, because you end up having to do double work, and fretting over whether or not the unapproved post has been seen by followers.
  • The Squeaky Wheel – The phrase ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease’ is true in many situations, but when you’re juggling a strong client base in a thriving social media business, it isn’t always possible. One particular client desired a great deal of grease. He emailed up to twenty times a day, often changing his mind after I’d completed a job. He was constantly asking me to take different directions, often switching it up on a dime. While it is certainly my job to ensure his happiness, I can’t be constantly reworking content, especially when there are other clients to attend to. This kind of client isn’t the worst of the lot, but sometimes they need to be told to dial it back, and if they don’t listen (he didn’t), it may be time to terminate the relationship.

Social media can be utterly rewarding and dramatically disheartening all in the span of eight hours, and both emotions are usually caused by our clients. I’ve had clients with whom I have never had an issue; they’re communicative, but not overly so and they’re willing to take my advice and put aside their ego. On the other hand, I’ve had several nightmare clients, and in hindsight, I should have seen it coming. Terminating our business together wasn’t easy, but the peace of mind that accompanied the severing dictated I’d made the right decision.



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