Working with Clients
Client relationships can be the most challenging in private investigation work. Clients come with all manner of personalities, motives, needs, and pocketbooks. Many of them also come with baggage. Learning to identify the ones you can work with, and taking proper precautions against the rare ones that you'll turn away, will enable you to better help all of them.
Meeting with Your Potential Client
If you have an office with a back entrance, reticent clients will often meet you there. If you don't, most new clients prefer to meet in a public location. You might prefer it also, unless your office is well staffed. Meeting a new client in public gives you an opportunity to scope him out and determine whether you want to take his case.
Meeting for coffee or lunch can also provide the new client with a sense of security. She doesn't know you, and she is scoping you out as well. Also, meeting this way doesn't identify her as a client; depending on the type of case, she may want to avoid broadcasting the fact that she's using a PI. Meeting in a restaurant or bar gives the appearance of two friends having lunch or drinks and conversation.
Bars aren't optimum areas for meeting the opposite sex. The atmosphere can elicit feelings of intimacy, feelings you don't want to entertain toward a client and that you don't want the client to entertain toward you. Involvement with a client can interfere with objectivity, alter focus, and may elicit an association whose connection is difficult to sever. Some PI organizations prohibit such involvement.
By accepting a client's money, you're acknowledging that you work for him. You start the investigation when he says to start and end when he wants to stop. In this way, he's the boss. However, he's not in control. You're the expert, so you must guide him to the most sensible and cost-effective decisions in the case. Ultimately, there are some things you'll never do at the client's direction, such as break the law.
Be prepared for many different kinds of clients. You will love some of your clients and merely tolerate others. You'll not see many clients more than one time, but be assured that some of them will recommend you to others if they've been happy with your service. Of course, if their case is sensitive, clients will never tell anyone that they've used you, and if they mention you at all, they'll say a friend used your services. An unfortunate but universal truth is that people who are unhappy with your service may talk more about you than those who are satisfied. When people feel mis-used, they usually voice this feeling. Therefore, it's important that you put your all into every case, not only for the satisfaction of doing your best, but for the reputation you're building.
Learning from the Difficult Client
You will eventually run into the client who cannot be satisfied no matter what you do. Make reasonable efforts to mend any breach, then let it go. Don't obsess over things you can't control and people you're unable to please. Realize that some people are professional complainers. However, don't assume that everyone who complains falls into this category. Be open to the fact that there may be a legitimate reason for a client's complaint, and know that this reason may have caused the client to be understandably distraught.
Try to see the difficult client in a new way. Even if she isn't entirely right, there might be a kernel of truth to her complaints — something you can mine from the rubble that will help improve your service. If you can put aside your pride and preconceived notions about how things should be, you may see that some complaining clients are giving you the gift of objectivity. Taking an objective look at yourself is difficult for everyone. Allow the client with a suggestion or complaint to help you do this. Conversely, if you examine the complaint next to the service and find that nothing was done incorrectly, you'll be comfortable keeping things the way they are. That's good to know also.