When Clients Realise They’re On The Hook

When you work with clients, you tend to see the full range of humanity’s best and worst attributes in short order.  You will come across the kindest and most generous people that you will ever meet one day and then the next bump into people who would steal candy from small children if they thought they could get away with it.

But it’s not until you run a services business that you meet the person that I consider to be the worst of them all: The Abdicator.

The Abdicator is the person who thinks that by hiring a service provider, they no longer are responsible for anything whatsoever and that if they don’t get the result that they wanted, irrespective of whether that’s what they paid for, then it is up to the service provider to just remedy the problem at their own expense until The Abdicator is entirely happy.

Nothing is ever their fault because “that’s what they paid for”.

We used to see these people a lot a few years back in our content creation business when they would buy a package online and then tell us that they wanted a 2000 word article on something generic like “wedding shoes”.

The form would come in and I could hear my wife sigh.  I would go back to the client and say, “What do you want the team to write about more specifically?  Do you have a particular topic or idea for the article?  Are there any keywords you need included?”

The response back would always be the same, “No, I just want you to create a well-researched article about wedding shoes that will rank well.”

Inevitably, the work would go back to them and within a day they’d be complaining about it not being what they wanted.  When you’d point out that you asked for more specifics they’d usually always reply with, “I paid you to research the topic and create a great article, this isn’t at all what I had in mind.”

This is the way The Abdicator works – they have something “in mind” but they don’t know what it is, so even if you could read minds it would be like wandering around a Middle Eastern Souq in the dark, ie. crowded and pointless.

At this point, I would normally go back to them and say something along the lines of, “We’ve completed the work to the brief, if you have something specific you’d like changed we’ll look at it, otherwise we’re done.”

Then they abdicate the responsibility for the poor outcome (at least in their minds) to you and move on to their next failure.

Occasionally, there are times when The Abdicator comes to the realization that they are on the hook for the outcome and the response always makes for a golden moment.

I had one of these the other day.

I’ve been dealing with an Abdicator recently and everything was someone else’s responsibility and he didn’t care because he was paying for outcomes so he shouldn’t have to clutter his thoughts with unimportant things like details.

We got to one point in the conversation where The Abdicator tried to take the all care and no responsibility position by saying that since I was the service provider making the recommendation, if what I was recommending didn’t meet his subjective expectations, then it was on us to fix that at our cost.

I instantly piped up with, “Not true.  You’ve given us a set of requirements, we’ve modelled that and are making a recommendation.  If you choose to proceed with that, that’s your decision.  You’re not paying for advice.”

The Abdicator’s advisor chimed in, “That’s true, they’ve only replied to the brief we’ve given, if that brief isn’t accurate, it’s your obligation to remediate that shortfall.”

Then it happened…

That look of, “Oh no, I’m responsible for this” came over The Abdicator’s face almost like a moment out of a movie where the villain realizes they’ve been bested by the protagonist.

It is one of the most beautiful looks you can ever experience when you recognize what’s actually just happened – panic is set in for The Abdicator.

In this particular case, this person suddenly wanted independent validations of the recommendation done, he wanted guarantees and a whole assortment of other things that were both impractical and never going to be given.

In essence, he started looking for a way to continue to be able to abdicate responsibility for having to make a decision.

Ultimately, he realized he was going to have to have some skin in the game.

If you deal with clients, you’re going to run into these people all the time and it’s best if you start learning to deal with them early.

My advice is quite simple – be very clear about what people are buying when they choose to do business with you.

For example, when people bought 2000 word articles, they were getting 2000 words on a topic that was of a high standard of English and researched as well as could be expected as it related to the brief, but they were not getting articles “guaranteed” to rank them on page one of Google for their desired keyword.

When you’re clear and concise with people about what they’re buying, it makes it much easier to confront this type of person – state your position, repeat it and be firm.

Remember, The Abdicator ultimately wants to make you fully responsible for some unrealized ideal thought and that’s just not possible.

Don’t get roped in to being a pawn in someone else’s crazy fantasy.

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