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  • Writer's pictureLouise Carnachan

Are You a Jerk Customer?

I’ve been hearing from clients about how demanding customers have become. Recently, three female business owners told me they are much more discerning about the clients they’ll continue to serve. Those who are problematic are low on their list for return appointments.

When I started my consulting practice, my father passed along his advice for difficult clients—increase charges to the point they no longer stay with you. If they do continue, at least you receive a pain and boredom surcharge. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use that strategy often. There have been a few times I’ve suggested a potential client would be happier with someone who is a better match.

Firing a client is understandable. Sometimes there’s just not enough money to put up with jerks, even in the short term. People who are rude, disrespectful, act entitled or treat me as a servant aren’t worth my time. If I suffer over the meeting, they won’t find their way back onto my calendar.

But it’s not solely disrespectful interactions that makes the customer a misery to work with. Here are some other things jerky customers do:

· Disregard communication and either don’t reply or don’t comply with instructions

· Ignore the contract they signed and argue about money or deliverables

· Delay delivery of items they promised so you can complete work on their behalf

· Repeatedly cancel appointments at the last minute

· Pay late

· Lie

One client group was so problematic that my business partner and I had a wake when we finally completed “the contract from hell.” We buried a symbol of the project in a shoebox full of dirt and toasted their good riddance. Cheers.

You don’t want to be that client. Yet all of us have behaved poorly at some time with those who provide service. It may have been snapping at a customer service rep, not replying to a question or pleasantry or grabbing coffee without a glance at the person handing it to you. Or worse, yelling when you don’t get your way or venting frustration because everything else is going wrong in your life. There are two words that work nicely when there’s a slip-up and they aren’t used nearly enough: I’m sorry. Never assume a paycheck is sufficient compensation for assaults of customer pique.

No doubt difficult people have been around since our ancestors dwelt in caves (if not before). A lot has been written about how we don’t how to behave since the pandemic isolation, but frankly, people were rude before—I wonder if we’ve gotten worse. With kids, I totally get it since those were their formative years. But by now I would have thought adults would be back some semblance of social competency. Is it that the issues of the world seem so ubiquitous and intractable that everyone is grumpy? Are we all suffering so much anxiety overload that it splashes onto the unsuspecting and undeserving? We would do well to take absences from social media and non-stop news cycles of doom and gloom. Get out more and see the people we enjoy, walk in nature, restore our spirits, fill the tank so we can be decent to the relative strangers we interact with on a daily basis and with those we hire.

There’s an old adage that hurt people hurt others. My observations tell me there must be a lot of hurting people. It’s going to take time to figure out the new normal, but we can all be more attentive to how we act when we’re in public and stop behaving as if we’re in our own living rooms yelling at the TV. I’m willing to give it a shot, how about you?

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