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Updated Apr 02, 2024

Marketing Fail: 5 Customers Who Want to Destroy Your Business

Be on the lookout for predatory customers and learn how to handle them.

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Andrew McDermott, Community Member
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Predatory customers can be a massive problem for businesses. You know the type: They try to squeeze as much time, money and resources out of your business as possible. 

Predatory customers may comprise only a small portion of your business, but they cause most of your problems. And while it’s easy to treat this dilemma like a customer service problem, it’s actually a marketing strategy issue. You may be inadvertently marketing to the wrong type of customer. 

What are predatory customers? 

Predatory customers are focused on squeezing as much as they can out of you — even if it ruins your business. No matter how good your product or service is, there are some customers you just won’t be able to please. 

These customers are disloyal, demanding and impossible to placate. They think their needs are more important than anyone else’s and will not hesitate to cause problems to get what they want. 

5 types of predatory customers

This chart provides a quick overview of the five types of predatory customers and how to spot them:

Type

Behavior

What attracts this customer

The Arranger

Demands options that don’t exist, refuses to compromise

A lack of options

The Corruptor

Says or does anything to get what they want 

Poor boundaries

The Disruptor

Demands special treatment and to be in charge

An aversion to conflict

The Slanderer

Guilts you into giving them what they want

A willingness to bend over backward to keep customers happy

The Schemer

Doesn’t think the rules apply to them 

Businesses that aren’t very unique

1. The Arranger: Uncompromising and demanding

The Arranger always wants a win-lose situation that ends in their favor. They change terms and agreements, demand nonexistent options, and push for concessions that benefit only them.

An Arranger cautionary tale

Mitchell ran a temp agency, and his company had just won a major contract with a well-known business. If all went well, this contract would be 10 times his revenue in one year.

But things didn’t go well. The Arranger had Mitchell sign a contract forever waiving his right to take legal action if something went wrong.

Not realizing his mistake, Mitchell hired hundreds of workers and took out a business loan to cover payroll while waiting for The Arranger to pay. But The Arranger decided they weren’t going to pay. The bank demanded payment, and the Arranger’s refusal to pay meant Mitch’s business was forced to shut down.

Dangerous marketing that attracts the Arranger

The Arranger looks for flexibility. Offering free estimates to anyone who asks and including concepts like “we’re here to make you happy” and “the customer is always right” in your marketing attracts Arrangers.

While the specifics of each situation differ, the general idea is the same. Arrangers are drawn to marketing that communicates one of two things:

  • Fear of losing their business: When we have plenty of options and prospects, we’re usually more focused on fairness than being “flexible.” Experienced Arrangers know that your inability to walk away gives them leverage. They use this leverage to get the terms and conditions they want.
  • An unhealthy willingness to be flexible: You can afford to be inflexible when you have many options. When you’re feeling desperate, it’s easy to do whatever it takes.
TipBottom line
When handling nonpaying clients who have left you empty-handed, consider talking to a lawyer, going to small claims court, or hiring a collection agency to handle the debt collection process.

2. The Corruptor: Reliably dishonest and consistently unethical

The Corruptor will say or do anything to get what they want. They’ll lie to you, pester you to do things you’re not comfortable with and ask you to lie for them. They’re always trying to erode your morals and values.

A Corruptor cautionary tale

Jan sells cupcakes online. While her business is new, things are going well. Along comes a Corruptor who places an order for 336 cupcakes for an upcoming birthday party. They request a custom design, fresh strawberries, German chocolate — the works.

Jan completes the order and delivers the cupcakes herself. A week later, the Corruptor initiates a chargeback with their credit card company claiming they never received the order. They follow up by posting a nasty review on Yelp.

Their credit card company gives the Corruptor a full refund, and Jan loses a ton of money. Her business suffers as potential customers take their business elsewhere.

Dangerous marketing that attracts the Corruptor

Corruptors are attracted to marketing that conveys your willingness to accept a one-sided relationship or abuse. Firm boundaries and the ability to say no give you power and protection against the Corruptor.

Corruptors are drawn to marketing that communicates the following:

  • Poor boundaries: It’s common for the Corruptor to feel out their targets. The last thing they want is to take the fall for their bad behavior. Questions about hypothetical scenarios involving “gray areas” and what you’re willing to do to earn their business or loyalty are also red flags.
  • No quid pro quo (this for that): If you’re negotiating with a customer and they ask for a concession, they must be willing to give you one in return. If you give them a discount, they should be willing to do something for you.
Bottom LineBottom line
To avoid chargebacks, create detailed product or service descriptions and post a clear refund policy prominently in your store and on your website.

3. The Disruptor: All about control

Disruptors demand special treatment and want to be in charge. They throw tantrums when they don’t get their way and refuse to use your products as intended. They boss your employees around and hoard access.

Real-life Disruptor example 

Apple’s design focus comes from a strongly controlled, perfectionist culture. It knows its way is the right way. Apple feels that those who don’t like its aesthetic shouldn’t buy its products. Disruptors wouldn’t have much success with Apple.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has a strong peace-making culture. For example, when Windows 8 came out in 2012, customers threw a collective tantrum about its design. Microsoft, being more vulnerable to disruptors, announced it was fixing the problem with Windows 10. 

Dangerous marketing that attracts the Disruptor

Businesses with peace-making or fun-loving cultures are most at risk. If your marketing tells customers that you prefer to avoid conflict or you’re all about fun, you’re an easy target for the Disruptor. Messages about how the customer is always right are music to a Disruptor’s ears and a cash flow disaster when you’re missing the right systems.

Businesses unknowingly attract Disruptors with marketing messages like these:

  • Designed around you.
  • Have it your way.
  • The customer is king.

4. The Slanderer: Uses guilt and shame to control or punish you

Slanderers will tell you you’ve let them down. They’ll lie to you or call you names. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to get you to lose your cool. When you do, they have the justification for reneging on their commitments.

A Slanderer cautionary tale

Fitz made sure his vendors felt like they were being treated as personal servants. A thousand other firms could do the same job for less, and Fitz made sure his vendor knew it.

“I’m your biggest client. My company pays your bills.”

His vendor suffered for it. It struggled to keep employees and constantly discounted its prices to “earn” more work.

Dangerous marketing that attracts the Slanderer 

If your business lacks measurable uniqueness, you leave yourself open to the Slanderer. 

Businesses without unique qualities feel the sting of being beaten by competitors and passed over by customers. They realize there’s no compelling reason (besides price or terms) for a customer to do business with them. Their marketing signals to customers that they’re willing to abuse themselves to make customers happy.

You’ve seen the marketing pieces:

  • We care about our customers! 
  • We never stop working for you!
FYIDid you know
Allowing your team to be abused by customers is one of the reasons why employees quit. It's also a surefire way to increase employee turnover.

5. The Schemer: Looks for loopholes

The Schemer uses their resourcefulness to find a way over, under, around or through your rules. These customers use creative ways to game the system and manipulate you.

A real-life Schemer example

A man in China purchased a first-class ticket on Eastern China Airlines and used it to scam a year’s worth of free meals at the VIP lounge in Xi’an Airport.

He arrived before his flight and ate at the lounge. After he finished, he changed his flight’s departure date to another day.

He repeated this process over and over and over, eating some 300 meals in a year. Then, when the airline started investigating, he canceled his ticket before it expired and received a full refund.

Dangerous business and marketing practices that attract the Schemer

Businesses often make promises without adding conditions. A Schemer typically targets these areas first. If you offer a money-back guarantee, Schemers want to see if your guarantee gives them the right to demand a refund indefinitely and keep your product. It’s ideal when there are no conditions to meet. It’s a bonus if you give them cash or incentives.

Ask yourself a couple of questions to avoid attracting Schemers:

  1. Does your product or service come with a guarantee?
  2. Do you make promises to your customers?
Did You Know?Did you know
Predatory customers can destroy your online reputation with one review. It's crucial to foster customer loyalty with the right people to keep your brand reputation intact.

How can predatory customers hurt your business?

Dealing with unhappy customers isn’t always a bad thing; it can actually improve your business in the long run. But constantly dealing with predatory customers is another issue. 

Predatory customers don’t want to compromise and aren’t necessarily looking for a solution. In all likelihood, they don’t really care about your business and just enjoy causing problems.

They divert your energy away from your mission and the loyal customers who help grow your business. And predatory customers are quick to bad-mouth your business and leave negative online reviews. 

TipBottom line
Respond to all online reviews whether they’re positive and negative. Responding to negative reviews gives you a chance to fix the problem, and responding to good customer reviews shows you care about all your customers.

How should you handle predatory customers?

If you experience predatory customers, should you show them the door immediately? It depends. If you’re unprepared and unsure about dealing with the kind of behavior we’ve covered here, it’s a good idea to move on.

On the other hand, getting a new customer is expensive. It takes time, money and effort. If you can turn them into loyal, returning customers, they may spend as much as 10 times more than someone new. Still, established customers who exhibit predatory behavior can cause more harm than good.

If you change your marketing plan as discussed, customers must decide if they want to change with you. If old marketing habits brought in predatory customers, they won’t be happy with your new attitude. Expect things to get worse before they get better as these customers try to return things to the way they were.

If they accept the changes, their behavior will change. Those who refuse will leave (on their own or with help).

Your marketing shouldn’t attract predatory customers

Returning customers trust you, so they’re more understanding. You’re no longer expected to bend over backward or take abuse for a chance to earn their business.

They don’t fight, bully or manipulate you for the best deal. They respect your unique selling proposition and know you’re the only one with your offering. Getting and retaining customers is so much easier when they’re loyal, trusting and easy to please.

Skye Schooley and Jamie Johnson contributed to this article. 

author image
Andrew McDermott, Community Member
Andrew McDermott is the co-author of Hook: Why Websites Fail to Make Money and the co-founder of HooktoWin.com. Subscribe to his 5-day mini course and you'll learn how to attract and convert website visitors, automatically.
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