Good Riddance – Firing Bad Customers

In the 80’s and 90’s some clown came up with the new slogan for corporate America that will go down in infamy, “the customer is always right”.

There is of course no shortage of incompetent labor in the American workforce, but anyone who has ever held a job also knows that more often than not, the customer is usually wrong.

I appreciate my customers immensely. But the fact remains my customers are usually wrong too. Even the ones I love. Even the ones I’m related to. Even the highly educated well-to-do beach front homeowners with degrees from prestigious schools are usually wrong when it comes to insurance.

And that’s 100% fine. It’s normal.

If they knew everything about insurance they’d be insurance agents. And if I knew everything about medicine I wouldn’t need a doctor.

Knowledgeable or not doesn’t matter, I love my clients and do everything I can to give them the best service available.

The point of the washed up corporate slogan that the customer is always right was of course not that customers are literally always correct in their assumptions or actions, but rather that you as a business person motivated by money should bite the metaphorical bullet, swallow your pride, and do whatever you can to appease and satisfy your customer. But even that notion is becoming obsolete.

I have an inside joke with a close friend of mine: Everyone’s money is green. True statement. The point of this was that green is the color that triumphs all. The color of your money matters more to business owners than the color of your skin. Money matters more than your political leanings, your culture, your religion, your sexual preference, your economic standing, your education level, your language, your nationality. And by all accounts this is true.

But in recent years I have appended that statement with another truism: …but some people’s money is greener than others.

Yes you should do what you can to make your customers happy. After all, happy customers are profitable customers.

But we’ve all heard another equally popular notion, that of the 80/20 rule. The rule goes that 20% of your customers will make up 80% of your problems. The exact figures might not be accurate but the gist of it is that some small, insignificant number of people are responsible for the vast majority of complaints, grievances, screeching voicemails, and wasted time that you experience.

If you’re a business owner, if you’re in sales, if you have ever had a job, you know this to be true. There’s that one client who always complains her food is too cold (or too hot). The habitual late payer. The guy who never checks his mail and claims he never got the bill you know sent him. The liar. The fraudster. The person who leaves a 5 minute long voice message that conveys nothing remotely important. The customer who returns half the clothes they buy with a stain on it.

Whatever your business, whatever your trade, you’ve undoubtedly had to service this person.

Customers make you money but they also cost you a little too. After all, customers are investments, and investments don’t come free. Making customers happy means investing some time, effort, and maybe some money in them.

Let us pretend you have 10 customers who all spend about the same amount at your business every year, whether it’s on pizza, clothes, insurance, or snowboarding equipment. 9 come in, say hi, smile, find what they are looking for, pay, and go on about their way with the occasional inquiry, and even rarer complaint. These are the good customers. The ones you would do anything to keep. You call them, and spend the extra time with them to make sure they are super satisfied with their experience, because you love hearing from them and want them to keep coming back. These are the customers you go to bat for, bend over backwards for, and jump in front of a train for, because they are worth it.

But then comes 10. There is always a number 10. This client walks through your door or you see their name on your call ID and suddenly it feels like the never ending Monday. You know it’s nothing good, it’s never anything good with this client. What is it they want to gripe about this time?

You have always put up with this person because you are worried about losing their business. You force a smile and want to keep them happy so they keep coming back, but you shudder with dread every time they actually do come back.

I can go on for pages about bad customers but I don’t need to. You know who your bad customers are. You know them by name. You could spot them in a police line-up. You could recant their phone numbers by heart. You can catch their scent from a mile away. Think of all the time you have spent dealing with these clients and their endless barrage of problems, usually self-inflicted. Think of all the hairs turned gray. Think of all the innocent staff under your watch who have been ripped a new orifice by these customers…

And now, think about how much more profitable it would have been to have used that time and effort acquiring new clients, or helping other clients who are wonderful to work with.

Enough with the façade. End the charade. Don’t wait for your bad customers to fire you.

Fire your bad customers.

Everyone’s money is green, but some people’s money is greener.

You don’t have to make a scene about it. Firing customers can be subtle. Be frank and open with them, and let them know that for whatever reason, your organization might not be the best fit for them, and recommend them to some other businesses that can help them.

In fact, do yourself a double favor and recommend them to the competition.

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