Identifying and managing difficult clients – part 2

By John Corban

We discussed managing difficult customers in a design business last month, so this month we look at identifying clients that don’t suit your business and how to manage those that are difficult in a maintenance business.

If you were to describe the type of clients you would like more of, what would be their profile? In other words,  

  • What areas do they live in?
  • What typically are the scope of work you provide for their gardens?
  • What would be the average monthly spend?
  • How quickly do they pay your invoice?
  • Do they often agree to your suggestions?
  • And are they easy to communicate with?


If you run a commercial maintenance business, modify these questions. So, who are the clients that don’t suit you?
You will have best clients and then you have your second-best clients, who may have a slightly different profile.
So anyone who doesn’t fit the profile and questions above, or perhaps your second-best client profile, then the rest don’t suit you.

Now, qualify your enquiries

The next step involves creating a list of questions to ask a residential client over the phone or via email to qualify whether a potential client suits your business. You can set up a qualifying document and email it to the prospect asking them to answer your questions. You can also have qualifying questions on the contact page on your website. The qualifying process can also be delegated to someone in your office or outsourced, once you have the document set up properly.

The same applies to a commercial business based on your experience, the scope of works, projects that suit your business, the variations that you receive, what companies/councils are prepared to pay and how quickly they pay.

Your time is important, so once you qualify the prospect thoroughly, if you know a potential project doesn’t suit you, be polite and say something like, “Now that I have an understanding of what you require, unfortunately this isn’t the type of maintenance project we are best suited to, so I suggest you seek another horticulturist to quote you. Thank you for taking the time to contact me.”

How to deal with clients that cause problems?

The key to minimising problems with clients is being clear in your communication and keeping them informed regularly by progress reports after attending to their property. If you and your crew maintain a garden to the highest standards or according to what you promise, then you deserve to receive your fees.

If clients start reducing potential hours assigned to their property, you have to decide if you can maintain their property to your high standards within the hours they are prepared to pay. If you can’t service their property properly or if you have a minimum amount per visit (and I think it should be something like 2hrs x 2 men or 4hrs per team), you should let the client know or be prepared to let them go, if they don’t accept.

I know we are always told when we start out in business that the customer is always right, but I disagree with this advice. I think we should have standards in our business and provide the highest standards we possibly can, but we should also have some rules that we stick by when choosing clients. One rule should be our minimum charge, another should be what we provide for the minimum charge while meeting our high standard. If clients start dissecting a planned service or want to receive more maintenance for less money, then I suggest you politely let them know that what they are demanding won’t be aligned with the standard you provide and what your company stands for.


Also, if a client is very slow paying your invoices, reminders to pay within 7 days are necessary. The aim is to build a client base with only ‘A and B’ category clients, or Best and Second Best.


Identifying the right clients, starts with clearly knowing on paper, who that client is. Then take time to qualify every client to ensure you are choosing the right ones. Set your rules and be sure about what you will and won’t accept, and communicate your rules and standards with clients. If you charge higher fees because your knowledge and standard is high, keep clients informed regularly and always remain respectful and polite, your clients will continue to appreciate your service.

John Corban
Business Coach for Landscapers,

Horticulturists and Nursery owners
Mob: 0433 271 980
www.landscaperscoach.com.au


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