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Terror customers unwanted – How to end the cooperation of terror
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Terror customers unwanted – How to end the cooperation of terror

Kinga Bartczak

All self-employed people and service providers will probably be vigorously nodding their heads at this moment when I open today’s topic of my article: Dealing with so-called “terror customers”.

What actually makes this type of customer/customers? They are in the “child or parent ego” ‘(keyword: transactional analysis) for the predominant part of the common cooperation. So they grumble accordingly about any aspect of your joint collaboration or try to lecture you with their years of experience: Be it the finances (which are of course set way too high), the time frame (which is too extensive for such a small project), the lack of communication (which should ideally consist of hourly callbacks and updates) or the presentation (which is not “mature” enough for them in terms of content). Of course, you would like to have your say in any specialist area, even if your know-how leaves a lot to be desired, so that a constructive exchange is often not even possible and you are more concerned with presenting complex issues in a simplified way.

Of course, you can’t do anything right for this particular type of customer, however, because you have to make up for the mistakes of your predecessors, disappointment and expectation form a constant roller coaster of emotions, and the customer is characterized by reliable indecisiveness: What was liked yesterday is not good enough today and next week they want to go back to the original idea.  As a bonus, you get sarcastic statements, no solutions of your own, and a steady stream of blame. The crowning touch is a permanent questioning of your professional competencies and et voilá: The manifestation of the thought of how to end the collaboration of terror is accomplished.

But what is the right way to deal with such a terrorist client?

There are, of course, several possible solutions, which are subject to certain conditions:

  1. You have a boss who stands behind you 100% and does not question your sovereignty in the face of the customer in any way or even apologizes for your behavior? If this is the case, you have the best prerequisite for maintaining your composure and ending the cooperation with a factual statement. Of course, it could happen that the customer decides here against payment for the services already provided, since the order (in his/her opinion) has not been completely fulfilled. Either leave it at that or take legal action. Here, of course, it always depends on the dependence on the payment and the scope of the service provided.
  2. As a self-employed person, you also have the options already described in 1. available to you. Here, the financial aspect comes to the fore. Feel free to be appropriately confident and make an appointment with legal counsel to inquire about your options in such situations. It would also be helpful to invite a mediator to the discussion, who would professionally lead a joint project meeting and ensure a factual and constructive exchange and mediate accordingly, should the child or parent ego become too dominant again. In the best case, this activates the adult ego of the customer and they learn to work with you more professionally in the future.
  3. The best way to deal with such a situation is to de-escalate it. Mirror the customer’s behavior, make it very clear that you will not take responsibility for the (possible) misconduct of your predecessor and that the question of your competence is not at issue here at all. Choosing this path means contradicting one’s own impulse (to simply let off steam) and keeping one’s composure by leaving no room for aggression.

All anger stems from fear:  fear that finances will be exceeded; fear that you may not be competitive if the project goes on too long; fear of being disappointed in joint collaboration. You can’t take away all your customer’s fears, but you can meet him with confidence and  thus perhaps clear away some reservations in advance. Always point out the solution orientation and the common goal of your cooperation: The successful completion of a project that satisfies both sides.

Schweigen ist ein Argument, das kaum zu wiederlegen ist. – Heinrich Böll Click To Tweet

They will always exist: The customers from hell

Ultimately, you should always keep in mind: If you want to, you will find ways; if you don’t want to, you will find reasons. A customer who wants to make trouble for you or use you as an outlet for his pent-up dissatisfaction (which may have nothing to do with you) will not be dissuaded by any mediation technique. In such situations, take a good breath, remind yourself of the common goal and always refer to the fact that you would like to return to the constructive part of the cooperation. If the customer accepts this, forget about the last half hour. If he intends to maintain his reign of terror, gently but firmly put him in his place and equally point out your competencies. Sometimes it is also advisable to arrange a subsequent telephone call with each other the next day or to take the team leader with you directly at the next appointment. If you are sitting in front of a hierarchical specimen, all your skills and experience will be of no use to you unless there is a “Managing Director” in the title of your job title. Consult with your supervisor, explain to him/her the goal of the upcoming appointment, and also write down specifically what you expect/want from your customer so that you can engage them directly.

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Have you also had to deal with so-called terror customers and if so, how did you deal with such a situation?

About the author

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Kinga Bartczak advises, coaches and writes on female empowerment, new work culture, organizational development, systemic coaching and personal branding. She is also the managing director of UnternehmerRebellen GmbH and publisher of the FemalExperts magazine .

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