When Is the Right Time To Fire Your Customers?

We are a world focused on customers—striving to give them a great experience or opportunities to talk to us or return products if they’re not completely satisfied. The customer is king and is ALWAYS right … right? Usually, yes, the customer should be your #1 priority in every situation and don’t make them wait too long for a resolution to their problems. However, is there ever a time when you should fire your customers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of dedicated customer service representatives at over 2.5 million. And, that doesn’t include people like salespeople, waiters, retail staff, receptionists, or others whose job is focused on customers. However, most of us have either witnessed, done, or been the recipient of terrible treatment at the hands of an irate customer.

Some customers are just unreasonable no matter what you do to solve their problem. The upset client crosses a line, one where a complainer isn’t just shedding light on a defect or problem, but where they’re truly taking advantage or bullying—where the customer is mistreating you or an employee. Where is the line in the sand, and what do you do when you reach it?

The American Management Association segments several types of customers, among them one they call the “detrimental” customer. Here’s a full list:

  1. The reluctant customer is resistant to change. When your company introduces an innovation that will help create a better customer experience, reluctant customers don’t get on board. They don’t like changes to the product/service. They don’t embrace technology.
  2. The fickle customer has few loyalties. How do you keep a customer once you’ve won him or her over? The job of creating customer loyalty begins almost immediately after the customer buys. The fickle customer is the one you have to win over again and again.
  3. The angry customer (self-explanatory)
  4. The detrimental customer is a habitual merchandise returner … and has a never-ending list of complaints. These customers strain your employees and, sometimes, your service to other customers. Are they more bother than they’re worth?
  5. The keeper is your ideal customer. Identifying who these customers are can help target your marketing and customer service efforts. Plus, if you do make a mistake, they calmly point it out and let you have a chance to correct it, giving you terrific feedback in the process.

Clearly, all your customers have value. You need to find a way to work with the reluctant, the fickle and the angry customers. (For tips on working with your more difficult customers, check out this businessnewsdaily.com article.) But when does difficult become detrimental? When is the effort of dealing with a detrimental customer more than the customer is worth?

Following are three approaches when dealing with these customers:

  1. Practice good customer service first. Be polite and prompt. Smile and listen. If the customer is physically present, i.e., at a retail store, and is behaving badly, remember that other customers may be watching the interaction. According to research by Lily Lin published in the Journal of Consumer Research, customers are more willing to punish other shoppers who ignore the rules of good conduct …. In fact, they expect the person and the situation to be controlled. “Retailers can get part of the blame for their badly behaved customers.”
  2. Call in a relief pitcher. Just like when a baseball manager summons a relief pitcher to bail out a struggling starter, have an established employee trained to take difficult customers off the hands of junior employees. Just remember that irate customers hate being shuffled between departments. So, all employees who interact with customers should be well trained in customer service, and this customer handoff should be the exception.
  3. When all else fails, fire the customer. When the time spent on a customer starts to outweigh the value of that customer or affects the service to other customers, it might be time to pull the plug. This is a drastic step, so don’t take it lightly. It should be handled in a calm, straightforward manner and not in anger or frustration.

One truly bad customer can create a lot of drama and put the employees dealing with him or her in a very stressful situation. Customers do deserve outstanding service. You listen when they’re upset or angry. But if a customer habitually treats you and your employees disrespectfully, it might be time to say good-bye.


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