Monday, September 14, 2009

How to "Fire" a Client - Part 2

In Part 1, I spoke in regards to some signs that you, the trainer, can experience when your client begins to display a different attitude from when you first began. I also provided a list of questions to ask yourself to help you evaluate the relationship between you and your client; and to help you assess this change in behavior.

Let's face it...working with people can be great experience--if you are a people person--which I hope you are because if you are not, than you really going to have a hard time in this field. Like I wrote in my book, "you need to be a people person FIRST, then an exercise fanatic second."

However, when the business is strongly dependent on the relationships with your clients (customers), it puts alot of pressure on the trainer to remain "cool" when a client deviates from the program; complains, whines, or misses a few workouts. The trainer needs to remain steadfast--but, but respectful. So what to do when the trainer is fulfilling his end of the deal, but the client is losing interest, missing sessions, arriving late, gets frustrated, or is simply a jerk when he/she does arrive?

I'll tell you a personal story:

My client "Bill" was a 58 year old executive in a large investment firm. He was an avid golfer and stressed to me how "great he used to be at golf and tennis". Bill and I would meet once a week for about 40 minutes to work on some golf specific exercise, mobility drills, and stretching. Some days Bill would arrive visibly stressed and frustrated from his day at the office. He was making great strides in training along the weeks: his swing was looking smoother, his shoulder flexibility increased, and his trunk was gaining strength. But it wasn't good enough for him.

About 6 weeks after our initial start, Bill began arriving to the session seemingly upset about something that occurred to him. He would grind his teeth and speak to me in short burst of sentences, and say he "had" to get a "a better turn on his back swing". Or "he wasn't getting the velocity he wanted on the ball".
When I taught Bill new drills, he looked terrible. As his trainer, I wasn't happy with the technique he was using or the form he executed. I would stop the drill and break it down into parts. Bill would get frustrated. When I spoke to Bill, he towered over me. I was his coach, his preceptor, I was "his boss" for 40 minutes every week. I was stern and direct with him--all 5'6" of me! Bill's eyebrows would crinkle on his 6'1" frame and he would "yell at himself" if he didn't get something right. I encouraged him to stay positive and praised him every time he performed a drill better.

As the weeks went on, I began to frown onto my appointment book whenever it was Tuesday and see I had Bill scheduled for 4pm. I knew the session was going to consist of dealing with an upset man who was not content with the progress and a loss of motivation on his part.

One day, I had to cancel Bill's session with me in order to visit the doctor's for a check-up. I gave Bill a call at his office at 9am that day. When I spoke to him, I let him know that I had a doctor's appointment at 3:30pm and would not be available for our session. It was understandable seeing that I made the appointment weeks before I met Bill and rescheduling it would mean pushing it down another 4 weeks. Bill grew agitated with me over the phone and threatened to end our sessions! I was bewildered at his attitude and not sure how to react. At first I thought he was joking with me, but he seemed serious. With the proper demeanor, I managed to calm him and convince him that I can see him on a different day for this one week. He agreed.
When I hung up the phone I was convinced that Bill was stressing me out. I wasn't looking forward to our sessions anymore. I dreaded Tuesday and my morning clients leading up his appointment can see a change in my attitude. I was leaving work stressed because of this one person. There was only one thing I can do...

Letting a client go is not an easy thing to do. It is a risk for your business. It can show that you "don't care enough about your business or your client", or it can mean that you "really mean business" . If you mean business, you better back it up with client results. Luckily I did. And people knew that. My other clients also knew that I am very tolerate and patient--but things have to be done my way in a session and they NEED to relax all barriers when it is time to train. But when a particular client is affecting your mood, stress or energy levels, and ultimately, affecting your business--it is time to remove them from your list in a professional manner.

1.) Start with direct communication - phone call. Call your client at a time when you know it is convenient for them. If your client is handling 2 children at 9am, don't call then. If you know, your client relaxes after dinner, try calling then. If you call your client while they are at work, make sure they can accept calls and try calling on a break. I called Bill in the mid-morning when I knew he was done with meetings. I also called Bill at work, because I knew he was a higher up and could accept calls. Be polite, but be firm. Explain to your client that their attitude is affecting you. Explain to them how their attitude hurts your business. Explain the training session content. Talk about the progress they have made. Don't focus solely on negativity. Talk about how much progress they have made.

NOTE: Communicating with your client may help them change their attitude. If they can hear how their attitude affects others, they may consider changing it. This is good, but if you are steadfast on removing him from your list, move on...

2.) Offer your client a hard-copy of the exercise program and any paperwork associated with it.

3.) Refund your client any monies for unused sessions. Perform number 2 before this step. It shows that you are offering something to them in exchange for this inconvenience. (Lets be honest, this is an inconvenience for your client. If they really didn't like you, they would have "fired" you.) Don't wait to refund them. This can get ugly if you do.

4.) Suggest a different trainer. If you have a network of colleagues, give your client the names and contact info of them. Explain to your client that it may be a "better fit".

5.) Upon mutual agreement, follow up in writing. Send an email ("CC" to yourself) or send a letter to the client's home detailing that there has been communication between the client and yourself; sessions have agreed to be ceased, refunds for unused sessions has been issued, and a suggested list of available professionals has been provided.

Keep this letter or email in your records. If you have this conversation in person with your client, I suggest you have a third person in the facility or close by. They don't need to be in the same room, but have them in visible view of the conversation. You can also draft a letter of session cessation and present it to your client. However, in order to prevent aggression or dissatisfaction with this situation, always have a the refund paperwork ready. Don't hesitate on giving a client back his money. Holding on to their money is one way to rub your name and business in the dirt.

In part 3 of this series, I'll explain what happens after this...


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