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You May Not Have to Fire That Nasty Client After All

July 7, 2017

This time we hear from Patrick Renn, president of Atlanta, Ga.-based Renn Wealth Management Group. He remembers a time when his staff begged him to let go of a client who was making their lives miserable.

Considering saying goodbye to a client is often easier to talk about than it is to do. But I know from experience it can make a lot of sense when you have a client that is simply a bad fit for your firm.

Years ago I was approached by a high-profile local businessman about working with me. This fellow was very successful and well-known in town and I was happy to sit down with him. We had a good conversation and I took him on as a client.

This guy was a very hard-charging executive – as Type A as they come. He worked all the time – and I do mean all the time. He had no family to otherwise distract him, though I doubt that would have dissuaded him from his work. He was just so intently focused on his business.

He also brought that same 24/7 intensity to his relationship with our firm. We worked hard for him and did some good work that paid off for him. But after a year or so my staff started to complain. I didn’t take the complaints too seriously at first, thinking this client was just an occasional pain and they could put up with him. But I came to notice he was calling and contacting staff much more frequently than other clients. My staff members confessed to me that they dreaded his calls because of his gruff and demanding behavior.

Part of the issue was that this client had multiple advisors and was constantly trying to keep up with everyone.

The complaints kept coming, and soon I knew we had a problem. My staff are good people who I respect and who had been with the firm for 15 years or more at the time. They understood how to serve customers and provide value, and they enjoyed a good challenge as much as anyone. It troubled me to see how this fellow was adding so much stress to their lives. I had to do something. I cared about these people more than about my client list.

Patrick Renn

Eventually I invited the client to lunch and told him nicely, but directly, that his manner was off-putting to staff. I said we obviously weren’t a good match and needed to part ways. He surprised me by admitting that he wasn’t particularly pleasant when it came to business and money, and he asked for a second chance. I said no, because I do not believe people can just change who they are. But he persisted. Finally, I agreed, but with a very short leash.

To my surprise — and especially to that of my staff — he really did change. He backed off on the number of calls and was always pleasant when he did check in. He has become a model client and we are glad to have him as part of our business.

Since then I have come to realize clients need us more than we need them. I am more careful about who I welcome to our business. I have also turned down business based on a bad feeling or my reading of how a client may behave. This has happened many times over the years.

I’m glad my staff persisted in their complaints about that specific client many years ago. It made me a better manager by getting me to focus on more than just the bottom line. I’m also glad I risked speaking to him directly about the problem. In the end, I think that’s what made the crucial difference.