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Debbe Daley Headshot

Firing Your Client: When Is the Customer Not Always Right?

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As the old adage goes: "The customer is always right." When is the customer not always right? What is proper business etiquette in regards to how much abuse one should take from a client who has pursued your expertise and commissioned you to do a job? With proper business training and many years of experience, this type of situation should be a guaranteed avoidance -- especially when your record of referrals and past client satisfaction has proven to be meritorious.

The situation I have recently experienced has left me with no doubt that I did the right thing. I fired my client and felt no remorse. Expressing that I could not work with him, and that I absolutely believe that satisfaction would not be achieved no matter how hard I tried. How could I have avoided the obvious red flags that led up to the dismissal of this client?

From constant texting and reporting after hours on duties performed for the day, to being told that his project needed to be made a priority ahead of all other projects I had committed to prior to agreeing to take his, this demand made me very uneasy.

When hired to fully decorate a property for a developer who had a deadline from his buyer of three weeks, I told him I had other commitments, and I could not make his three week deadline. He was still anxious for me to commit. Possibly four weeks would be doable. He requested for me to take another look at the property as soon as possible. This had been my third visit to this job site within the last year. Giving an assessment on staging the model for the project of which no commitment was ever executed. Red flag #1.

Once agreeing to take the project and a retainer fee was discussed, game on! Not only did I receive constant texting, but condescending phone calls that led me to end the job before it was completed.

Purchases of furnishings had begun, scheduled deliveries had been made. and two weeks prior the deadline the client gets hot and heavy.

Client: "The owner just told me he has photos set up for the 16th. Any issues?

Me: "Photos"? (Confused as I was not told this was going to be a rental property until this message).

Client: "Yes...for his rental web site."

Me: "I don't think it's a problem.

Client: "You can deal with the owner if it is...As I committed to him that you needed three to four weeks to get it to turn key. I got you extra time already. You need to make this your #1 priority as it is my name on the line with him. He had an order in his hand from someone else...Turn Key on the 9th. I talked him out of that option." Red Flag #2.

Just then the telephone rang and it's Mr. Irate yelling at the top of his lungs: "I need this done. If you think it is a problem to commit to one week before the 16th then you need to tell me now."

At the point of this conversation, I had everything lined up for the project of which I tried to explain. He was not hearing it. In turn, I told him I did not appreciate his tone or speaking to me in a condescending manner. Mr. Irate had no idea what I was talking about. The yelling continued for no reason at all and he wanted me to drop all of my current client projects for him. I told him he wasn't letting me do my job and that I could not work with him and believed that he would not be satisfied no matter what was done. I also told him that he should have went with the other person to do his job if it was going to be completed sooner and why didn't he? Red flag #3. Lastly, I told him I would be sending back his retainer check and thanked him for his consideration, good luck and have a nice day.

Did I break business etiquette? Is the client always right? In this case I don't believe he was. In business there are always deadlines. Most professionals in the field are used to dealing with real estate deadlines. Not given the opportunity to complete a job within an allotted amount of time due to being pressured unnecessarily led me to fire my client.

I was fortunate. Dealing with professional and reputable vendors, I was able to return merchandise and furniture purchased for this project. Lesson learned after 25 years in this industry. Never underestimate the power of the red flag.