We Need to Talk: How to Break Up With a Client

Provider discussing personal treatment plan with patient

Most of the time, we’re discussing ways to grow your client roster, but today, we’re looking at the flip side: Knowing when to let a client go. Dr. Hermine Warren (DNP) warns that the provider-client relationship should be a positive relationship, and sometimes it’s best for a provider to break up with a client.

“You want a patient that understands who you are and trusts you to be the captain of the ship,” she said. “Every client might not be a love connection—let’s hope it is—but, as a provider, you need to be aware of when it isn’t a great fit.”

Below, we’re diving into Warren’s advice on documenting your client relationships, spotting red flags, and telling clients when it’s time to move on.

Be consistent with informed consent and charting

Hermine posing for headshot in black attire

Dr. Hermine Warren

Dr. Warren is a big believer in repetition and consistency. In fact, she spends approximately 15 minutes reviewing the risks and benefits every time a client comes in.

In addition to thoroughly reviewing the informed consent disclosures for any treatments you provide to a client, she recommends documenting your conversations during appointments, and keeping before and after photos.

“It is so important to document every single interaction with your patients. You have to chart! You need to document when something is addressed and when there is feedback so you have something to go back to if you need to break up with a patient,” she advised.

Red flags in the client relationship

As service providers, most of us are focused on building or maintaining a client base, so when should you say, “Thanks, but no thanks”? Dr. Warren said it may come down to intuition. “We all get impressions of our patients,” she explained. “If there is something off, it isn’t likely to change.”

There are three areas that Dr. Warren called out as red flags:

  1. Manipulative clients. You know your skills and the practices and techniques that work best for you. Your clients should always have a say in their treatments, but they don’t get to dictate how you practice. “The patient that comes in and says, ‘I don’t understand why you can’t do this when I saw it on Instagram and a different provider did it’ is manipulative.”
  2. Aggressive or passive aggressive clients. Beware of clients that don’t heed your advice, and later blame you. “For example, a patient that says, ‘I have an event in a week, but I don’t mind if I bruise,’ and then is upset that they bruised, is being passive aggressive or aggressive with you.”
  3. Google. Most of your clients are going to research treatments online, but you may not want to keep the ones who place more value in a search engine than your expertise.

Identify where things went wrong

Before you fire a client, Dr. Warren suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why did the problem happen in the first place?
  • Was it you or the patient?
  • Could you have done better?
  • What, specifically, has the client done to hurt the relationship?
  • Can you go on working with them?

Remember, sometimes, you will be the problem, and it’s important to note areas where you can improve—even if that’s simply setting better boundaries.

Kill ʼem with kindness

two women shaking hands in front of skinspirit logo

If it’s time to bid farewell to a client, be prepared to have a respectful conversation about the problems. “I always say the conversations around this topic have to be drenched in kindness,” she said.

Dr. Warren suggested broaching the subject with a statement like, “It appears to me that these last treatments haven’t made you happy. I feel I am not giving you what you want, and you’d be better served with someone who can give you what you want.”

Next, refer to your past documentation and make sure that what you said is what they heard. “You don’t want anyone to feel victimized, which is part of why we document every patient interaction: What you said; how much of a warning you have given them.”

Continue your documentation. Update your chart with the points of your conversation, and tell the client, “I am documenting the conversation.” You want them to know that they have been given the warnings and alerted to the fact that the relationship is not a good fit.

Try to wrap up the conversation on a positive note. If you have a recommendation for another provider, share it. “You can close it out by trying to refer them to someone that is better fit for them. Or you can simply say you can’t think of an appropriate referral at this time,” Dr. Warren said.

And if the client’s upset at the end of your chat? Just let it go.

“You can’t have a fight with someone if you’re not fighting. Don’t fight back on Yelp or social media or elsewhere. Sometimes, you just have to move on and be gracious because it’s your name that is out there.”

Why a break-up could be the right move

“As a provider, you need to be aware of when it isn’t a great fit. You may know after the first time or it may take some time,” she said. “What I think about these days is: If there is a problem, would I want to work with you and could we work through that problem, or would it be a total nightmare?”

Dealing with the occasional difficult client is standard in most businesses, but providers have bigger concerns than a simple personality conflict because complications, while rare, can happen during treatments. Dr. Warren said, “What is critical to remember is that if you do have a complication, you want to be working with a patient who is in sync with your philosophies.”

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