Client tantrums are not serene

Bullying is not restricted to the shenanigans in Canberra and dummy spits are not confined to the tennis court. Clients – yes, the lovely people who buy your amazing products and services are also susceptible to unconscionable behaviour including:

  • Yelling abuse at account managers who are unable to break the laws of physics to fast track an order.
  • Threatening to “never, ever buy from you again” if you don’t give them what they want – yesterday.
  • Playing power games as in “I had lunch with your boss last week. She would not take kindly to your handling of this – don’t make me call her to approve one lousy additional discount”.
  • Playing the sales person off against the technical guru: “I don’t care what he’s claiming, he told me that we would have the updated software for free”.
  • Internal Politics: “There are three other departments in here who all buy from you – it would be much simpler if I didn’t have to tell Procurement of your intransigence”.

Let’s be clear. If you have genuinely made a mistake or demonstrably failed to deliver a well-documented promise, then you’d best get the coffee out to stay back till 2 am to fix it. However, many of these behaviours are considered simple robust negotiation by clients or are designed to make themselves feel good because of their own shortcomings. It is perfectly acceptable to “take one for the team” but with the emphasis on one. It is also reasonable to help a client out, especially when it’s unforeseen or when it will be genuinely appreciated.

But there is no reason for you, your colleagues or your manager to be subjected to the toys being violently and unprofessionally thrown out of the cot. It’s a racket that should be broken. Appeasement wasn’t a great strategy in 1938 and it’s not an appropriate response in 2018.

Does your leadership say “Just give them what they want”, regardless of the circumstances or how unprofessionally you’ve been treated? Do your leaders say “Look, I know he’s a pig, but he spends a lot of his budget with us?” Or do they pick up the phone and deliver one of the following:

  1. Bob, we really value our relationship but our account management team don’t deserve to be yelled at regarding a standard delivery issue.
  2. Bob, we negotiated the price based fairly on the volume you’re purchasing. Why are you giving our Account Director such a hard time?
  3. Bob, our engineers were up to midnight configuring your system. I don’t appreciate threats to cancel the contract, simply because there’s pressure to upgrade the system. We both know we’ll meet the deadline.

The client persona is often depicted as a serene benefactor bestowing their gifts, but we shouldn’t be afraid to call out behaviours that are demonstrably unprofessional. Leaders, you are elevated in the chair overseeing the court of account management. There’s only one reason why client code violations need to be called out. Your people are worth it.

Game, Set. Match.

Elliot Epstein, CEO, Salient Communication

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