Treat them like they want to be treated: Dealing with toddler clients

We start today’s post with a reference to a 1990 song by the artist Father MC. And while it is not necessary to have a working knowledge of the lyrics and melody of this song (but if you do know it, feel free to sing along), the title is the perfect launch point for this discussion. I recently completed a Case Study about a client with unrealistic expectations about a home inspection, and was surprised by a timely blog post by my digital mentor Seth Godin. His original post can be found here.

a home inspection client acting like a toddler

In his post, he compares our problem client, the one with the unrealistic expectations, to a two-year-old toddler. The toddler does not have a grasp of the way the world or interpersonal relationships work, so getting mad at or trying to reason with them is a certain exercise in failure. The same attributes may be present in our problem client, therefore the method of dealing with them is often similar.

We can expend a ridiculous amount of energy trying to reason with a toddler/problem client, and we ultimately end up with little to show for our effort except lost productivity and personal frustration. We can reason until we are “blue in the face,” attempting to explain to them that their position is unrealistic and their reasoning is flawed, but will come away having gained absolutely no ground in this misguided debate.

As business owners, particularly ones that are functioning as sole proprietors, we must be careful to allocate our limited time on activities that will produce beneficial and (ultimately) profitable results. We have limited resources, and wasting our valuable time on an endeavor that will never produce a good outcome is always a losing proposition. We must be a wise investor, utilizing our resources in a way that will produce benefit. The old idiom “throwing good money after bad” certainly applies in this situation. 

As business owners, it’s inevitable that we’ll have some clients that believe they’ve had a bad experience. It’s our responsibility, as professionals, to attempt to remedy these situations. Our success in business depends on curating a good reputation, and we must make every attempt to protect and nurture that reputation by taking care of our clients. However, as experienced business people, it’s often blatantly apparent which customers are being unrealistic, and will never be satisfied.

Spend your time wisely; don’t waste time trying to make an inherently unhappy person happy.

Seth Godin theorizes that the best mode of action is to “treat them like a toddler. Buy them a lollipop, smile and walk away.” John Rachel, author and blogger, says “You can’t teach calculus to a chimpanzee. So just share your banana.”

giving the unreasonable home inspection client a banana lollipop

Cut your losses; turn the page; move on and don’t look back. We all have difficult and trying business situations that we will face. Pray for the wisdom to know when someone can be reasoned with, and when to buy them a banana flavored lollipop.

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Thanks, Joe

pic of me, Joseph Cook Jr, home inspector