“The customer is always right” has been the mantra of the customer service world since the dawn of sales. However, it’s not always true, and sticking to this ideal can harm your business.
While the goal of customer service is to make customers happy so they’ll continue doing business with you, there are situations where customers cause more aggravation than their business justifies. [Related article: Customer Delight: The New Standard in Customer Service]
When customers are toxic, you have the right to refuse to do business with them. You’re better off turning your time and attention to reasonable customers than wasting resources serving unmanageable customers’ every whim.
Before “firing” a customer, make sure your employees or call center handled the situation correctly. If they didn’t, step in to apologize, express empathy, and offer to correct the problem.
While the vast majority of customers just want to be seen, heard, understood and have the problem remedied, some people will never be happy. Here are 10 situations in which severing ties with a customer may be the right move.
Reasonable customer behavior is subjective based on your patience level and relationship, but you’ll know unreasonable behavior when you see it. For example, an unreasonable customer may demand instant results without regard for you or other customers.
If you feel that a customer is being unreasonable, it may be time to politely tell them you can no longer serve their needs, and it would be best if they seek a solution elsewhere.
When a customer micromanages a project they entrusted to you, it can cause costly delays. If you know that you’re the right person for the job, and your client chose you for excellent reasons, don’t let them interfere with your work. Remind them that you are the expert, and that’s why they hired you in the first place.
It’s OK for clients to want to be kept in the loop and have their suggestions incorporated, but if they continually badger you to do things their way, that’s overkill. There’s no good outcome for this situation. You’ll be frustrated, and the client will remain unsatisfied.
Here’s one way to deal with a micromanaging customer: Every time they change something, ask them to sign a change agreement covering additional fees for adjustments outside the project’s original scope. If they won’t stop micromanaging or refuse to sign the change orders, it may be time to cut your losses.
Frequently enough, you’ll come across customers who don’t want to pay, especially in the services industry. The situation is even worse when clients become unresponsive after you prompt them for payment, making your request seem inappropriate.
When clients owe you money, they may think your product or service isn’t worth the price. Some think that – because they’re strapped for cash – you’ve suddenly lost all desire to be compensated for your hard work. Clarify that this is not the case and you need to be paid.
One way to prevent non-paying clients is to collect payments at various project milestones or insist on an upfront retainer. Have clients sign a proposal that outlines the payment schedule so you can refer to this legal document when payment is due.
If they still insist that they can’t pay for your service – or offer to pay obscenely little money – let them go. They’re not worth the effort.
Welcome to the sad reality of customer service and the bane of businesses: customers who think the person on the other end of the phone, live chat or email isn’t human.
If someone verbally abuses you or your staff or makes working an unpleasant experience, get rid of them. Your company needs your employees’ loyalty more than it needs a high-maintenance customer who can’t demonstrate basic courtesy.
If someone reaches out to you or your service team too frequently, eating into your company’s time more than one customer should, it may be time to let them go. This usually manifests in one of two ways.
If you decide a customer isn’t worth the time they’re taking up, let them go. You’ll save company resources better spent elsewhere.
There will always be customers threatening to take their business elsewhere. This is a scare tactic to compel you to do what they want. Don’t let these unprofessional customers hold you hostage. If they’re convinced that someone else can do a better job, you’re better off not having them as a customer.
Sometimes, a customer may also threaten to air an issue on social media or via an online review to damage your online reputation. Even though you shouldn’t underestimate the power of social media to make or break a business, don’t back down if you’re in the right. The internet has a way of delivering justice to bullies who misuse it.
This is a no-brainer. When customers express their frustration with abuse or violence, it’s completely unacceptable. It’s not OK for customers to sexually harass you or your employees; disparage them on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion; touch them inappropriately; hurt them or threaten to do so. Involve law enforcement if this behavior occurs.
Customers can be dishonest or unethical in their dealings with your company. For example, say you are a graphic designer, and you agree to charge a client less for a logo design if they give you all of their brand identity business, such as signage and stationery. Then, you discover that while they paid less for the logo, they hired someone else for other brand identity work.
In this case, it makes sense to stop working with the client because they took advantage of you and you can’t trust them.
In other circumstances, perhaps you have no problem with your client, but you discover they’re engaging in dishonest or unethical business practices. For example, say you’re a CPA, and you find out that your client is underreporting income on their tax returns. The client’s dishonesty can negatively affect you, so you must send them a written notice of the discovery and your resignation.
Say you’re hired for a complex project with strict deadlines. You gather a team and prioritize the project, but you need precise specifications to meet the timeline and the client is suddenly nowhere to be found. You get the information you need too late to provide an excellent product by the deadline. You’re frustrated and worried about your reputation.
Don’t take a disappearing, uncommunicative client’s actions personally; they’re probably just busy. However, this type of client causes unnecessary frustration and anguish. You can try strategies like setting a clear timeline and keeping track of all communication, but if this behavior continues, the customer likely isn’t worth the aggravation.
New companies may offer products and services at lower than market rates when they want to establish themselves and grow a client base. However, as they accumulate more experience, they raise their rates. The problem arises when early customers are grandfathered in at the introductory price.
Discuss your new rates and the reason for your rate increase with the customer. If they’re unable or unwilling to pay a fair price, consider letting them go. This is especially true when you have plenty of demand from other customers who find your rates reasonable.
The best way to “fire” a customer depends on the reason for terminating the relationship. Here are some guidelines for specific situations.
Criminal behavior includes racial, ethnic, or religious harassment; sexual harassment (verbal and physical); and physical violence. Here’s what to do:
If a customer has violated the terms of an agreement with you, including not paying, take the following actions:
When a client’s unethical behavior exposes you to a government agency’s potential liability or corrective action, document everything they did, what you did, and what you knew or didn’t know.
This category includes being unreasonable, being rude, micromanaging or threatening to take their business elsewhere.
This includes customers who are too time-consuming, can’t afford your current rates, or for whom you’re not an appropriate solution-provider.
No matter how much you think you need the sale, ensure you know who you’re doing business with. The wrong client could cost you more than you realize.
Look for the above signs in a customer; if you see any red flags, they might not be worth the effort you’ve been giving them.
Chad Brooks contributed to the writing and research in this article.