How to Alienate and Lose Clients



We have all done it. Let someone down, gone dark because we have bad news or we didn’t have the answer they wanted to hear. You don’t want to call and hear the disappointment in their voice, but if you don’t call you also know they are wondering what’s going on and why they haven’t heard from you.

You’re on the runway but the plane isn’t Moving

 It’s like when you’re on an airplane and you’re sitting on the runway for what seems like hours. The pilot finally comes on and says the visibility was bad so they were holding the planes but now we’re next in line for take off. Big sigh of relief!

 Why do we do this? More importantly, what affect is it having on your business? Just like you sitting on the airplane getting frustrated and angry, so too is your client when you leave them hanging. Isn’t it amazing how you feel relieved even when the pilot says it will be another half hour? Why?

We all have varying needs for Certainty

We all have the need for certainty. It is one of our biggest human needs. The pilot just gave you certainty. Conversely, most of us have a low tolerance for uncertainty. This is what is happening when we don’t know what’s going on, our uncertainty has us making up stories that start us spiraling into negativity. Add that to our society’s need for immediate gratification and it’s a toxic mix.



There is a quote by Thomas Jefferson and a similar one by Seneca the Younger, the Roman philosopher. It shows how long humans have been doing this to themselves. ‘How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened.’ Those negative thoughts and stories that come with the unknown are very destructive indeed.

Give it to them Straight

So what can you do? Know this; just like when the pilot tells you it will be another half hour, people can accept bad news. If you wait, you add uncertainty and all that goes with it. Minimize the damage and tell them what you know as soon as you can.

Everyone is busy. Because they are, they are understanding of delays when they aren’t persistent and you give them plenty of time to digest the news. Avoid excuses. Give it to them straight. ‘I’m not where I want to be on your design. I want to make sure it’s as good as it can be and I need another week.’

Their response will probably surprise You

 What can they say to that? My clients usually respond something like this. ‘If you need more time I want you to take it. This project is important to us and we don’t want you to rush and not do as good a job.’ Wow, that was better than I thought. Yep, it always is. So much better than the lousy story I had in my head about what they would do or say.

Now you have a client that knows where you are on their project, you have all of that fear of how they will react off of your shoulders and the sun is still shining. More importantly, you have nurtured the client relationship instead of degrading it. When you add up all of these instances over the course of a project they can either create a very happy client or alienate them for good. I prefer happy!

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