Unwanted customers? Don’t be afraid to turn them down
In the current economic climate, you might think that companies should take every customer they can get. But some are just not worth the hassle… Here are the lessons I’ve learned where the relationship just didn’t work out.
Firstly, follow your gut instinct. This week I was called by someone who wanted a new website. He asked if I used Dreamweaver. I explained that no, I didn’t, because I prefer to create website code from scratch. “You don’t use Dreamweaver? That’s ridiculous!” I responded “Well, I have the skills to create a website directly. I don’t use software to do it for me…” “Ridiculous!” he insisted. “You’ll be telling me you don’t use Fireworks next!” He had clearly learned one way to create websites, and assumed it was the only way. I could tell that the conversation was going nowhere, and didn’t even bother to take his details, because he was so stuck in his ways. I just knew that we wouldn’t see eye to eye. Apart from anything else, his comments of “Ridiculous” were mildly offensive – I felt like saying “if you know better, go and do the website yourself!”
In another case, alarm bells started ringing from the off, but I still did the deal. Guy (not his real name) contacted me needing a website for his Private Investigator business. He would check out internet brides, to make sure they didn’t have family elsewhere before marrying someone from the west.
My suspicions were raised when Guy wanted to make a 2 hour round trip to pay me the deposit in cash rather than cheque. However, some customers like to meet me, so I agreed. We discussed his website, and I went away and did the work. We met again so I could receive the balance owed, and this is where it turned weird. Guy confided that he was a wanted man in an Asian country, and needed money from his PI business so he could raise a bribe to stop officials throwing him in jail if he returned. At this point I smiled politely, while thinking “how can I get out of this?”
Several months later Guy asked me to update his website, which I did, but then he vanished without paying. At renewal time his website simply expired. Perhaps he was in prison?
Guy taught me another lesson – don’t be afraid to walk away. That’s exactly what I did when I met another customer, who I’ll call Alex. I’d explained to Alex that I specialised in website accessibility, and would provide him with an elegant but straightforward website with text and static images. This was agreed. We met so that I could show him the demo of his website. The conversation went like this:
Me: [finishing demo] … And that’s your website.
Alex: Where are the dancing animals?
Me: What dancing animals?
Alex: In my head, the website has animals dancing across the screen.
The first three words are the issue here – “in my head”! Having explicitly been told that I didn’t do animation, even making a joke out of the fact that my name is Flash but I don’t create Flash movies, Alex still envisaged that I’d provide some – but never told me about it! We agreed to part ways and he settled up. Later, I saw the next incarnation of Alex’s website – it had pages whizzing in from all sides and tinny music playing – very much “My First Website” – reminiscent of something from the late 1990s. I’m glad we parted company, because I would never have allowed myself to produce anything like that!
What should you do about awkward customers? I think the key here is “be proud of your price” – if they are going to be hugely fussy and need lots of changes to the website, or command a lot of your attention then they will have to pay for the service you provide.
It’s not always like that; I have several long standing customers and I appreciate their loyalty – I hope they enjoy the level of service I give them in return. But if your instinct tells you something’s not right, listen and don’t be afraid to walk away – it could save you a lot of trouble in the long run.