A customer breaks his word, chews out someone on your staff or keeps calling you in the middle of the night. What do you do? Do you shrug it off, remembering the customer is always right? When looking at sticky situations with clients, we sometimes decide to put our heads in the sand. Maybe those clients are a bit difficult to work with, but they bring us lots of business, right? Is the business they bring us really worth the trouble? Are valued employees deserting you while you keep that pesky client? Are you loosing much-needed sleep while you struggle over what to do about this client? Are you suffering inside because of what a client is putting you through? How much value does this client really bring? Where do we draw the line in the sand?

In my book Managing Sticky Situations at Work, I reveal three Decision Points that help guide you when dealing with any sticky situation. Working through those points will help you answer these questions, particularly for client related situations. Let’s examine what the Decision Points are and how you might apply that to a sticky situation with a client.

Define the Cost. What is the cost for acting? When you are dealing with a client, you must ask yourself, what will it cost my business if I lose this client? You must also ask, what will it cost my business if I keep this client? What are the costs for not acting? If you say nothing, do nothing, what are you giving up? Is this client worth the anxiety and frustration? Too often we don’t consider the costs. Instead we plough along as if we had no choice. In Michael Port’s best-selling book, Book Yourself Solid, he gives us all permission to fire clients. His premise is that some clients cause our business to stagger under the weight.

Set the Limits. When you go into a sticky situation, it helps for you to set your limits. What are you willing to do? What are you not willing to do? When you know what your limits are, you know when you’ve gone over the line. With clients, you may decide to allow them some leeway, but how much? This is your decision, but once you make it, you must be clear both to yourself and to your client.

Determine the Power Source. Who has the power? Are you feeling powerless? When we feel powerless, any situation becomes stickier. Clients make us feel powerless. We believe they hold all the cards. But, do they really? Consider what you bring to the table. Is your product or service of value to your client? How willing is your client to give up that product or service? Think about the value you add to that client’s business.

Let’s look at a sticky client situation and see how we might apply the three Decision Points.

Mary runs a high class day spa. She attracts clients from throughout the region and has created an excellent reputation for her services. Recently she negotiated a deal with a nearby hotel. The hotel owner wishes to use Mary’s spa for his customers. He wants them to have access to the spa as a service the hotel will provide its guests. Mary has worked months in negotiating this deal. Now that the papers are signed and the deal set, the hotel manager, Rick, comes to Mary and requests that she devote part of her facility to his guests. He wants her to make that part of her facility off-limits to her regular customers. This was not part of the original contract and it presents a number of problems for Mary. First, her staff must “police” that part of the spa. They must make sure the users are hotel guests and not other clients. Second, Mary has regular clients who enjoy using certain parts of the spa. They may consider themselves second-class citizens if they are told they cannot use the spa on certain days because of the hotel guests.

Determine the costs. Mary looks at the contract she’s negotiated with Rick. If she does not act, she risks alienating her regular clients. Furthermore, she senses disgruntlement on the part of the staff. She’d hate to lose valued staff over this issue. If Mary does act, she risks losing the contract all together. Rick may decide to move his business elsewhere. Mary spent weeks negotiating with Rick. What he brings to the table is a steady client base with a guaranteed minimum income.

Set the Limits. If Mary decides to talk to Rick, she must determine what she is willing to do. If she allows Rick to take over a third of her facility three days a week, this might jeopardize her current business. Rick cannot guarantee that the hotel guests will use the spa; he simply wants it available to them. Mary could have a third of her spa unused and unavailable to her current clients. She decides that she cannot lose the bulk of her business over this issue. She decides that she will allow Rick to have first access to the space he’s requested. If within twenty-four hours, his guests have not made reservations for the spa, she can release the space to her current clients.

Determine the power sources. At first Mary felt as if Rick had all the power. He offers to bring a steady stream of clients to Mary. He had the power to make demands on her. Mary now realizes that she brings to Rick a high quality spa facility with excellent staff. She knows that no other spa in the area can compete with her as far as quality goes. Rick is very interested in associating with Mary because of the reputation she’s established. Once Mary recognizes her own power sources, she is in a better position to talk to Rick and negotiate with him.

Even though we worry about losing valued clients when we face sticky situations with them, we have choices. The Decision Points enable us to carefully consider those choices.

To learn more about all kinds of sticky situations, join the sticky situation website http://www.managingstickysituationsatwork.com. You will receive a free introductory chapter to the book as well as a bonus white paper: Three Communication Secrets for Success in the Workplace.

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Author's Bio: 

Joan C. Curtis, EdD is a communications coach, author and speaker. She recently released her second book, Managing Sticky Situations at Work (Praeger Press, ABC-CLIO, LLC, Santa Barbara CA). This book describes 26 sticky situations and how to apply the SIJR Model to resolve those situations. Dr. Curtis has worked for over 20 years in the area of communication. She shares her secrets for success in the workplace in this well-written, practicle book. Join on her website: stickysituationsatwork.com and get a free introductory chapter to the book.