Dealing with a Difficult Client: When to Call It Quits

09/25/2015 04:18 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2016

While it is admirable to strive for client-pleasing service, there may come a point where your company is better served by ending a difficult business relationship. Firing a problematic client offers some advantages. Those that habitually make unreasonable demands, consume a disproportionate amount of your staff's time or chip away at your team's desire to do their best work could be costing your business professionally and financially.

Here are seven signs of an unhealthy business dynamic:

  1. When a customer routinely disrespects your employees. There is never an excuse for rude or abusive behavior. While they may slip up and have a bad day, talking down to an employee or making a scene in front of others is grounds for a professional divorce. As an employer, it is your responsibility to protect not only client needs but also your employees' best interests. The damage to staff morale is not worth the loss.

  • Making outrageous requests. When a customer has frequent "predicaments" or their poor planning often results in late nights or weekends at the expense of your team, take note of this red flag. By accommodating next-to-impossible demands, you are putting your company in a difficult position. This undue strain can keep teammates from performing at their best, hurting your bottom line. Although necessary every now and then, continually expediting a project can be damaging and may risk your relationship with other cooperative clients. By keeping track of these impractical requests, you will find yourself more prepared when and if it is time to call it quits.
  • Incessant haggling. If someone is always trying to bargain for lower prices, even if they are aware you will take a loss, it may be best for you to part ways. While everyone likes a great deal, taking advantage of a situation is quite a different story. When the threat of taking their business elsewhere is always looming, it might be a blessing in disguise.
  • Asking you to do something shady. It is not worth damaging your professional reputation to keep a client. If they want to pay you under the table, ask you to cut corners or insist on other illegal behavior, a goodbye needs to happen.
  • Changing their minds after the product or service is delivered. This is akin to placing your order in a restaurant, then deciding on another option as the chef is plating your meal. Sometimes last-minute changes are required...within reason. However, once the wheels are in motion unless there is an extenuating circumstance, they are generally obligated to uphold their end of the signed contract.
  • Demanding a referral discount. Expecting a deep discount for every referral they send you is unrealistic. Reputable businesses depend on each other for support and recommendations. It makes good business sense to thank your customers regularly, either with a discount, a small token or a handwritten note. Unless you have a client referral bonus program in place, a loyal customer will send you business because they are pleased with your service.
  • Expecting unreasonable favors for their business. Most people are appreciative of efficient service providers. They recognize the value in having exceptional vendors and suppliers on their team and are willing to pay for quality work. However, others seem to believe they are doing you a favor by patronizing your organization, and you "owe" them for their business. Clearing out unprofessional and excessively taxing clients will potentially give you room for better and more profitable ones. Do not be afraid to say goodbye when you know it is the right thing to do.
  • For more of Diane's advice regarding this and other business etiquette topics, visit her blog, connect with her here on The Huffington Post, follow her on Pinterest and Instagram and "like" The Protocol School of Texas on Facebook.