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In business, we hear so much about the idea that the client or customer is always right. Entire customer service programs are built around the idea that the client or customer should be satisfied at all costs.

I don’t buy it.

Let me explain.

Yes, I believe that, as professionals, we can and should treat our clients with respect and care. To the best of our capacities, we should deliver what we promise and be in integrity around providing whatever they pay us for.

However- and this is where it starts to get sticky- I believe, equally, that our clients have the same responsibility to us.

clients-worth-youIn most direct service businesses, like coaching and consulting, we, as coaches or consultants, trade our knowledge, time, and life energy to help our clients succeed.

Our clients are not responsible to us, as much, perhaps, in the areas of psychotherapy and mental health, but still, even in those arenas, clients have to commit to the process and show up to do the work.

What happens when you have a client who won’t show up and commit?

If you’re like most helpers and healers, you’ll step in to fill the gap. You’ll work harder and longer and try to assist the client in showing up.

Is it really worth it?

That’s the question I’m pondering today. I had the experience recently of ending a client agreement by mutual arrangement. The thing is that I knew for a few weeks that the situation wasn’t going well.  I wasn’t getting all the information I needed to produce the results I thought we’d agreed upon. For her part, the client seemed evasive and uncomfortable about the level of detail I was requesting. She seemed to want to deflect and defer on the very items that were, in my opinion, critical to her success.

In retrospect, I realized that there was a mismatch in our level of congruence around the work we were planning to do together.

In some cases, the client was less than forthright in how she proceeded with items we’d agreed upon, and we seemed to get caught in power struggles here and there. In other cases, I likely should have asked more questions and probed more deeply when I sensed the mismatch.

At the end of the day, in essence, neither of us were getting what we needed to make this work.

Since my background is in psychology and psychotherapy, I am definitely prone to taking too much responsibility in situations like this. Luckily, they don’t happen often, but it is jarring when they do. It’s really sad when you can see your clients acting out unproductive patterns of behavior with you, and there doesn’t feel to be much you can do to change it. And then, on the other hand, I gave up psychotherapy for the work I do now, so I made the choice to step out of too much knowledge of, and responsibility for, client behavior.

Looking forward, though, what I realize now is that I must commit to doing a better job in screening my potential clients. I need to ask more questions and pay more attention when actions and behaviors don’t line up.

I need to pay attention when I suggest actions to a client, and they do the exact opposite of what I suggested. Since they are paying me for my knowledge, it just makes sense that they might want to listen to it.

At the deepest level though, person to person, I realize that I don’t want to squander my life force and life energy on people who say one thing and do another. I also don’t want to waste my energy on people who don’t honor agreements they’ve committed to.

I’m clear on this in my personal life, and I realize it’s time to start adopting the same approach in my business life too.

I would do a lot to help my clients succeed. It’s not too much to ask that they provide me the information I need to help them.

The client is always right, except when they’re not.

I no longer want to waste my life and energy on clients who drain me and aren’t worth my deep levels of care and focus.

What about you?