It may seem like clinging to clients and meeting their every whim will do the most for your bottom line. But if the behavior of a difficult client is starting to interfere with the rest of your business or life, it may be time to end the relationship. Absorbing an outsized amount of your mental space, difficult clients rob you of your ability to serve other clients, grow your business, and stay within your standards.
“Every consumer deserves our most professional foot forward and our best effort,” says Kristen Correa, a REALTOR® in Keller. That means providing as much information as possible to help consumers make good decisions, but if they’re not listening to you or being reasonable, walk away, Correa says.
Moving on from clients who don’t value your expertise helps you avoid referrals to similar clients. It also frees up time for clients who value you, alleviates stress, and provides the time to prospect for new leads.
Parting ways with a client can be a liberating experience, says Cheryl Bailey, a REALTOR® in Corpus Christi. It can also earn you respect. “When you’re willing to say, ‘I’m not the agent for you,’ what you do is prove that you’re not all about making the sale but you’re truly about making the best real estate transaction for all parties,” Bailey says.
Holding on and hoping for the best isn’t always a good strategy, especially when letting a client go could benefit your business. Here’s how to set standards for your business, recognize the benefits of ending a relationship, and part ways with a client professionally.
Be Willing—and Expect— to Part Ways With Clients
As an agent, you should not only be willing to end a client relationship but be ready to, according to Jody Lockshin, a REALTOR® in Austin. And there’s no shame in doing so, she says. Buyers and sellers hire agents for their expertise, but if they’re unwilling to embrace your professional opinion and waste your time with unrealistic expectations, you might be better off letting them go.
New agents in particular may be hesitant to miss out on any business. But creating the habit that you’ll drop anything for clients can work against your career, says Matt Menard, a REALTOR® in Austin. “If clients show a wanton indifference to the standards and expectations you set, you’ll be better served using the time you would’ve spent with them prospecting for another client, even as a new agent,” Menard says.
Set Standards and Follow Through
“Establishing standards and expectations makes us look more professional, and the more professional we look, the more likely our clients are going to refer us,” says Menard. Developing expectations for how you want to be treated, what behaviors you’ll tolerate, how you allow your time to be used, and what interactions or requests you’ll accept are part of being a professional.
If you’ve gone above and beyond for a client, communicated well, treated them with respect, and a client continues to violate your standards, it’s best to end the relationship, Bailey says.
Common warning signs of a problem client include:
- Unrealistic expectations
- Not valuing your expertise or time
- Missing appointments
- Failing to communicate.
Persistent disagreements on pricing or marketing, demanding far more of your time and mental energy than typical clients, and choosing not to participate in the process you’ve agreed upon are also signs a client relationship should be ended.
The more agents set and uphold standards, the better they feel about themselves, and that’s reflected in their work, Menard says. “If we set standards for how our time will be used, then we have more time available to balance our workload, balance our lives, and create a better experience for everyone,” he says.
How Parting Ways With a Client Can Benefit Your Business
Ending the relationship can free you from the burden and liability of working with a client who’s beyond help, Lockshin says. “It’ll free you up to be able to focus on the people who are viable and realistic and justify your time, effort, and energy.”
Just like any relationship, a toxic experience can spill over into other areas, affecting other clients, your bottom line, and your wellbeing. Continuing to work with problem clients can be a bigger risk than ending the relationship, Correa says.
“Clients who consume your hours and energy affect your attitudes and your checkbook,” Menard says. “If your attitude’s not right and you’re on the phone with someone, you could not come across at your best.” You’ll have a much better financial outcome getting rid of an emotionally draining client, he says.
“Our best gift we can give them is to continue to be professional even in their time of stress, misunderstanding, and not listening to us,” Correa says, “Let them have their dignity and let’s have our professionalism, respect, and reputation.”
How to Professionally End Client Relationships
If saving the relationship isn’t feasible, end it as delicately and professionally as possible. Refer to the signed agreement, educate the client on what you’re obligated to do, what you can’t do by law, why you’re not able to help them with what they’re asking for, and have a conversation, Correa says.
Failing to end the relationship on a positive note can open up the possibility of negative word-of-mouth or online reviews, which Menard says can carry the same weight as referrals but in a negative way. “We have to guard our reputation, so even if we’re upset or disappointed, we have to find a professional way to handle it,” he says.
“More and more, we live in a time where reviews, and negative reviews in particular, seem to take on a life of their own,” Menard says. “And people who leave negative reviews are often very passionate about it, so it’s important that you find a diplomatic way to separate ties.”
Menard uses the following script to help cut ties smoothly: “Despite my best efforts, it seems like what you’re looking for doesn’t line up real well with the service that I provide. I really want you guys to find something. I’d be happy to give you a list of other agents that you might be able to talk to.”
What if Clients Ask You to Take Them Back?
Bailey and Menard have both taken clients back—but only after sticking to their standards and enforcing their boundaries.
Being willing to walk away showed her client she wasn’t only interested in the sale, and the client stopped second-guessing her expertise, Bailey says. “You always do the right thing, then the money will follow,” she says. “It was a wake up call for them to understand that I truly was about them and not the commission.”
During Menard’s transaction, his client lost her cool and made disrespectful comments.
After explaining he doesn’t tolerate that behavior, he ended the relationship and recommended she find another agent. She called back, apologized, and Menard took her back. He has since helped her buy another home.
“Everybody gets a mulligan unless they’re really nasty and mean, and then, it can be too much,” he says, “But there was a big, big apology. I believed it to be sincere, and we were able to work through it.”
Whether you take clients back or not, it’s up to you to set standards for your business and stick to them in the face of disruptive clients. No one client is worth sacrificing your self-respect, wellbeing, and the energy you need to grow your business. If you decide your business is better off without a difficult client, part ways in a compassionate, respectful way that protects your principles and everyone’s dignity.