Sometimes, firing a customer is good business

Exit strategy

Yep, that’s right, I’m talking about firing a customer. While this seems to be the “nuclear” option, we’ve found that in the rare occasions when the relationship is a miserable one, moving on does not have to be the customer’s decision. It can be yours.

Obviously, this measure is only for extreme situations. That said, we’ve all had customers or clients who become too demanding and unrealistic in their expectations. Often they want levels of service you simply cannot provide and, despite your efforts, they are never satisfied. Sometimes, they can even become abusive about your business or even about you personally.

Here’s the kicker: in most cases, you’ll probably find these customers are also among your least profitable because of all the extra time and attention they demand.

Now don’t get me wrong. As you well know, there will always be difficult customers, disagreements, and plenty of unpleasant times. In most of these cases, we continue to move forward with whatever is thrown at us. Why?

We go the extra mile because at the end of the day, we know that we are of real value to the customer and the relationship is a positive one, overall. But there are rare circumstances when a customer becomes too much of a drag on your firm’s time, resources, and perhaps on your very soul. In these rare cases, you might need to consider this nuclear option.

The beauty of owning a small business is that you really do get to choose who you deal with.

Pushing the button

So how do you go about firing a customer? In the few times we’ve been faced with this decision, we’ve been able to simply explain that we have done everything possible to make the relationship work and we really cannot do anything else to satisfy them. Since it’s clear they are unhappy and things are not working, it’s not only time but it’s in their best interest to find a different vendor or service provider.

Make sure the customer knows you will assist them in their transition in any way you can (within reason, of course). If they’ve paid for any services in advance, issuing them a refund (full or partial – depending on the circumstance) or forgiving an invoice can be a great way of removing any reason for them to stay. Remember, you’re probably not making money on them at this point anyway, so removing any possible barrier to leaving helps you both out.

The real trick is to stay humble and friendly but firm in the fact that there’s nothing else you can possibly do for them. Keep it positive.

Of course, the best solution is to avoid this situation from the start. When you’re pitching your services and trying to win business, watch for a few caution flags (if not flashing red beacons). Here are a few signs to look for:

  • Were they unusually difficult early on?
  • Did you find yourself revising proposals time and time again with only negative feedback?
  • Were you unable to get a commitment for quite a while when everything seemed just as they wanted it?
  • Did they speak particularly ill of disrespectfully of their last provider?

Mind you, this is not a matter of judging your prospects against all of your pet peeves, but if you’re going to have problems before you even get started, how do you think it will turn out?

Standing firm

No one wants a customer who causes them to hold their breath when the phone rings, when they handle a support issue for them, or when they have to deal with yet another unreasonable demand. You’re not stuck. Though it seems counter-intuitive to let go of business or send a hard-won customer to someone else, don’t be afraid to take a piece of your life back.

Besides, you can always send them to your most troublesome competitor.

Image by: spDuchamp via Compfight cc

Larry Dearing
Larry Dearing is the owner and senior project manager at Web Marietta in Marietta, Ga. Larry has many years of experience in all aspects of customer service and client relations while providing a variety of web services to the small business community.