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Q&A: Cutting Off Bad Customers

Occasionally businesses must protect themselves from dishonest clients.

Digital printing and industry experts tackle your top questions, challenges, concerns, and frustrations as 2015 comes to a close.

Q: After 24 years in business, I have learned most of the answers to my questions by trial and error. Yet, in a world of no integrity, I have had clients ask so many questions only to be competing with me in months to follow. So, what’s the best way to deal with an unscrupulous client? It’s a shame we can’t be appreciative of the fact that there is tons of business out there, but very few service-oriented and honest operators.

– Greg Pappas, founder/owner, GCI Graphics, Atlanta

A: If you offer good customer service, you’re going to be transparent with your clients, so, at times, you may be too generous with information. Simply be careful with any information you deem to be proprietary. We have spent six figures on patents when we’re really serious about our intellectual properties. However, the best defense is to always be evolving your company, products, and methods. This way, when the unscrupulous copy you, they are copying your yesterday and you’re living in today, planning for tomorrow. Sounds like you’re a person of character; they’re missing this important characteristic. We can hope that karma will catch up to them.

Craig Miller, president/CEO, Pictographics

A: Ah yes, the unscrupulous client. We too get one or two of those per year. First (for some reason), it seems that we’ve been able to identify them upfront as possibly unscrupulous. Then, we ask ourselves if we should still work with them. The best answer I have is that it depends. If you have a method of dealing with that client where you get prepayment for your services or have them sign a scope agreement that protects you against what you think they can or will do, then I say go ahead and sell to them if they are respectful to your staff and don’t tax your capacities.

Having said that, it’s always best to err on the side of caution here. If you don’t see a clear path to an easy and profitable solution, then abort. This can be done gracefully by being very upfront. I once told a potential customer whom I overheard on the phone yelling at another supplier in a disrespectful manner that we just don’t operate like that, so I could not help him further. Your company and your personal values cannot be altered or challenged by a customer. There are millions of customers out there, so feel free to send the unscrupulous ones down the road.

– Jared Smith, president, bluemedia

[Questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity. Views shared represent those of independent experts and readers.]

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