Some of the wisest advice I was ever given was “you can’t chase every rabbit.”
It’s true. Not everyone can be your customer. Nor would you want them to be.
Once long ago the department store I worked at was rocked by a nightmare customer.
The customer had ordered and took delivery of $20,000 worth of furniture.
The morning after delivery, the customer accused the delivery crew of offences that were both terrible and improbable, took steps to dispute the charge on their credit card, and openly taunted the store’s general manager to take him to court.
It’s clear that the customer had a few screws loose, and the company eventually prevailed in court, but it was a massive headache.
It’s pretty rare for a client relationship to turn into a complete Gong Show.
It’s even more rare for there to not be red flags and danger signs early on that you should bail and go find yourself some better customers somewhere else.
That’s the beauty of retainers and up-front deposits. Much of the time they’re an effective filter for weeding out potential problem clients.
As it was explained to me early on “if they won’t play ball over a $500 deposit they’re not going to play ball with a $10,000 project.”
Retainers and deposits don’t always work, though.
Once when I was still very green to the AV business there was a new client who was building a home. He was an older fellow, and he and his wife were downsizing to a bungalow in a new gated community.
I did all the usual things that I knew how to do: perform a needs assessment, ask lots of questions, do a walkthrough of the unfinished structure, and collect a deposit.
A week later he calls. “So, we’ve decided we’re not going to build this house after all. So can you refund the deposit?”
Not. Going. To. Build. This. House.
But, I thought, it’s already built. It’s framed. The foundation is poured. I walked through it last week.
What does the builder think about that? I wondered.
Not knowing what to do, I talked to my boss. Being older and wiser, his spider sense was well-attuned to detecting problem clients.
“Refund his deposit” he said “And move on.”
That proved to be a wise choice. About a year later I was talking with the project manager for the builder about an unrelated project and the former client’s name came up.
It turns out that he really did try to cancel his half-finished house with the builder. And he proved to be a major source of aggravation for them.
Refunding the cost of his deposit was a small price to pay to not have to talk to him again.
If you don’t filter out your potential nightmare clients you run the risk of being stuck with ones who play games with your fees, as eloquently captured here: