In Minnesota, however, it’s cold season, which means I have to play the role of triage nurse. Here are couple of ways to handle sick clients while maintaining strong client relationships.
Got the sniffles? Let’s reschedule
I remember a faithful stretch this year where three consecutive sick clients told me:
- “I was up all night with the chills;”
- “Sorry for coughing, I’ve been sick for three weeks;”
- “My voice is hoarse from this terrible cold.”
At some point shortly thereafter, I got a miserable cold that felt fairly flu-like. I cannot absolutely trace it’s origins to those any of those sicks clients, but I’d argue there’s a strong correlation.
Since then, once it’s clear a client or potential client is under the weather, I’ve made a concerted (and polite) effort to tell current and prospective clients (in varying forms): “please do not come in if you are sick.” I’m polite as possible, saying that I have a newborn at home and I do not want to get her sick.
Surprisingly, it’s worked. More than one client has asked to reschedule after hearing that explanation. As soon as I mention having a newborn, it’s like a lightbulb goes off—nobody wants to get a baby sick and nobody has held it against me. It’s frustrating that it requires proactive measures by me—but I’d rather do that then get sick.
There is always the potential risk of alienating a client. In my experience thus far, that has not been an issue. In part, that’s because I approach it with kid gloves—and I only bring it up if the client sounds sick over the phone or has mentioned something in an e-mail.
Hand sanitizer and the conference room
Of course, the proactive approach will not stop everyone. Some clients get sick the night before and don’t want to cancel for any number of reasons. Some clients just don’t think about it. If you have a client that you think is trying to get you sick—that’s just not good.
I frequently meet with clients in my office, even though I have conference rooms available to me. I’m usually printing something on my HP LaserJet Pro 400 M401DW, having them sign something, or showing them something on my ginormous Thunderbolt monitor—which makes my office preferable. If I know a client is under the weather in advance (and cannot or will not reschedule), I use the conference room.
The hope is that I’ve isolated the cold/flu/malady in the conference room. When the meeting is over, I wash my hands, and wipe down the surfaces in the conference room. Sometimes I even spray Lysol disinfectant in the air as well.
If we meet in my office, I do the same thing in my office. But I suspect that the less exposure you have to the germ particles, the better. Of course, the downside to using the conference room is that they are shared rooms—so your colleagues may be less than pleased you used it as a quarantine room. Or, they may understand completely.
If handled correctly, your clients should understand
I have a suspicion that some people think I’m abrasive, rude, or both when dealing with a sick client. That’s not the case at all.
As described above, as soon as I justify my concerns (newborn), most clients understand and are extremely sympathetic. All parents remember the long nights with a new baby—along with the fear of getting a newborn sick. In other words: the majority of clients understand I’m being a good parent, not a jerk.