We all know the age-old saying “the customer is always right.”
But times have changed, and it’s totally fine if the relationships with some of your clients have changed along the way, too.
So, rest assured that it’s fair—heck, even encouraged—to say no to clients sometimes, or even part ways with some customers, all politely and respectfully of course.
Here’s how you can not only attract, but also retain the best kind of clients—the ones who know your worth and value your professional opinion.
When is it okay to say no to a client?
Firstly, honesty is always the best policy. If you don’t think that you can get something done, or have the capacity to take on what the client wants, it is perfectly acceptable to be honest with them and let them know that.
In fact, if they don’t take the news so well, you can remind them that you’d much rather be honest about what you are and are not able to do for them, rather than lead them on and make promises you can’t keep, only to have them be disappointed.
A good, loyal customer will understand that you’re doing your best, and want to offer the best customer experience you can rather than take on more than you’re capable of executing.
Another very legitimate reason to drop a client is if the relationship is costing you more—this can be either financially, emotionally, timewise, etc.—than the relationship is worth or benefitting you. The great part about running your own business is that you don’t need to put up with especially difficult clients. Instead, you can focus on the clients that are worth it to you financially, and who treat you respectfully.
If you’re overbooked or have more clients on your roster than you’d like, you should consider a price increase. By increasing your prices, you can differentiate between the important customers who know and understand your worth, and the not-so-good customers you are fine to discontinue doing business with.
Also, depending how much you increase your prices, the increase in price may actually lead to increased revenues overall, even with less customers or even work.
How to politely say no to a client—or even tell them they’re wrong
First, remember that you’re not a necessary evil, and by saying no to a client, you’re actually doing the best thing for both you and your client.
Next, think about the language that you use to deliver the bad news. Depending if you’re telling the client that you can’t complete the customer’s request or if you’re dropping them entirely as a client, do so politely while explaining to them that this is best for both sides.
It’s much better to be honest and upfront about what you are and are not able to deliver, rather than assure them you can complete the client’s request, only to later disappoint them because it’s not feasible for you.
A great way to soften the blow of saying no to a customer, is by offering them alternative solutions. Like, “unfortunately this is not something I can deliver to the level you deserve, however I can offer you ___ to get the same or similar results instead.”
When you’re in a competitive field like IT or managed services, it can be easy to get trapped into a race to the bottom, but it doesn’t mean that there is no way out of this. If you’re dropping a client, they may take it not-so-well as no one likes being rejected or fired. So, tell them they deserve better customer service than you are able to guarantee at this time, and give them the names of other MSPs or IT professionals that they can turn to, so they don’t feel abandoned or lost.
You shouldn’t need to offer discounts or explanations as to why your services cost as much as they do, or if something isn’t possible for you to complete, your clients should trust you that you know what you’re doing and have their best interest at heart. If they don’t, well, maybe this business owner-client relationship just isn’t meant to be…
Tips on how to terminate a relationship with a customer
If and when it comes down to it, firing someone is almost never easy, nor pleasant. However, there are ways to go about firing a client without being rude or burning any bridges.
Here are some things you should feel free to do and consider when terminating a relationship with a customer:
- Conclude the project, or whatever you promised you’d do: Since you don’t want to burn any bridges, the best way to do this is to make sure to conclude the project you’re working on or whatever you promised them you’d do to the best of your abilities, so your customer feels like they’re not being abandoned and that you are reliable and trustworthy.
If you’re a managed service provider (MSP), it may be a matter of completing a term of service as agreed upon in your service level agreement (SLA) rather than a separate project.
- When politely letting the client go, ensure you’re staying true to your contract with them: Remember when you first took them on as a client you both signed a contract or SLA that was intended to help you both? Well, don’t forget about its existence, so before you break things off with a client once and for all, make sure that you’re following the termination guidelines as stated in the contract.
- Give enough of a notice period: it’s really important that the client doesn’t feel abandoned when being let go, so make sure to give them enough of a notice period so that they have time to find and onboard a new IT professional or MSP.
- Offer them alternative solutions or other support reps: even though you may not have the capacity to continue working with this client, or maybe you simply don’t want to, there are sure to be other small businesses who will be happy to take them on as clients.
So, another great way to soften the blow is by giving them names of other IT professionals or MSPs that they can hire instead of you, so they don’t feel lost or abandoned.
Whatever the reason was that you decided to terminate the relationship with the client, keep thinking about what led you to make that decision when you bring on new clients.
This can help you learn from your mistakes rather than repeat them, understand what was done well in the past, and what you can improve with future clients to make sure everything runs silky smooth with future clients.