I’ve been doing some projects for a couple of customers and one thing always struck me as being paradoxical is the fact that the more IT-savvy one’s opinion of himself is, the more problems will result from the project. And after more than a decade in this industry, I somehow developed an instinct of being able to spot such persons within a few minutes.
“Normal” customers tend to ask questions, and of course I will answer them truthfully and at the same time try to relate it to the objectives of my proposals. “Extremely clever” customers on the other hand dictate what they want to do and often at the level of detail that’s smaller than a grain of sand.
The typical marketing approach to such scenarios would be that “the customer is always right”. However, from experience, my conclusion is: Customers who are adamant that only they are right and refuse to even consider suggestions are often wrong and should be avoided like the plague.
That, my friends, is the simple yet brutal truth.
Think about it for a moment. If they are so knowledgeable in the area then why are you sourced to implement the project? The best case scenario would be that they’d like to focus on other business areas. On the other hand, they probably only want you as a safety buffer; if the project goes well, then they’ll take credit for the project… if it goes wrong, just blame the consultant: that’s you!
Fortunately, it’s somewhat easy to spot potentially problematic customers. Listed here are three key identifiers.
1) They Don’t Value Your Time
It is important that you identify this trait before even submitting a proposal. See if they stick to appointments. Some points to note are:
- Do they often postpone meetings?
- If so, do they inform you in advance?
- When they are the initiating party did they provide you with meeting minutes beforehand?
- How often is it that meetings get canceled after you arrived at the location?
- Is a contact person assigned for your project?
- Do they respond to requests for input in a timely manner?
- Do they give you “urgent” demands for changes often?
- Do they often amass a huge inventory of requests and hand it to you on Friday expecting them to be completed by Monday?
If you answered yes to most of the questions above, then I feel very sorry for you. It’s obvious that you have a customer from hell. If you’re doing it for the money, then I hope it’s worth it. However, more often than not, I would personally recommend that you avoid them as soon as they’re identified.
Lost money can be found elsewhere, but lost time is gone for good.
2) They Think They Are Your Only Customers
There’s one important aspect of doing business and it’s called respect. Respect should go both ways. Vendors should respect customers because they provide income for your business. Customers too should respect vendors as they help your business run more smoothly.
That’s the ideal situation, however there are times when you as a vendor are not treated with respect. The most obvious sign of the lack of respect is when a customer thinks that your universe revolves around them.
Everything should be done now and you should do it because you’re at their beck and call. Needless to say, if a client is identified to be in this category, it’s time to execute your exit strategy.
You do have exit strategies, don’t you?
3) They Don’t Honour Agreements
An agreement is a set of mutually accepted terms and conditions. It takes great care and effort to construct an agreement and when it’s done parties are bound by this agreement. Although agreements should have some flexibility in it, the core of the agreement should remain and be respected.
Although I’ve mentioned that agreements should have some form of flexibility built in, one needs to understand the difference between flexibility and downright exploitation.
Flexibility goes both ways. If the client wants additional services to be included in the agreement then you as a vendor have the right to charge for it. Resist the temptation to fold beneath the pressure of your customers pleas and demands for performing additional services out of “goodwill”.
From experience, I’ve discovered that once you accept a few additional requests without amendments in terms of payments, customers tend to take this as part of the agreement scope and will throw in additional requests without being prepared to reciprocate in terms of financial allocations from their side.
Some do it out of naivete, but there are also who are downright milking you for every single ounce of energy that you are “willing” to put in.
So the next time you think you have clinched a major contract make sure you have your bases covered. Otherwise the project might be too big for you to chew down the road, and you’d lose on other profitable ventures.