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Tricky issue – Firing customers…

January 21st, 2013

Firing Customers

We’ve all had “them“… customers with expectations so out of whack from the start they make you say “huh?” We’ve felt the bad vibe from just the first meeting.

It’s important as a business and especially in sales to know which customers to avoid, ignore or fire.

The reason: bad customers suck up all of your time and resources. They never pay you for anything and they always want just one more thing.

Today, I wanted to explore the toxic customer, by sharing some red flags I’ve identified and discuss how to handle some of these tricky situations.

You may ask, why am I talking about firing customers? With social media’s powerful word of mouth a toxic customer, if not handled appropriately, can cause major damage to your brand and inevitably freeze the forward momentum of your company.

If you need another reason: bad customers deny you the ability to make a profit.

How do you avoid them?

Early Detection

Discover these toxic relationships early and you’ll have more opportunities to say “no thank you.” But it’s important to know that early detection doesn’t begin when they’re a client, you must keep an eye out during the sales process and spot the signs of a potentially harmful customer.

Red flags:

1: Disrespectful or Abrupt

People sometimes act as if they are not emailing a real person, and that’s ok. Sometimes we’ll receive an apology after we reply with a respectful answer.

You never know what’s going on with the other person. They might be in a hurry, they might not know email etiquette, or they might be a jerk. Just note, it may take several emails to figure it out.

2: Expectation of Discount (With No Reason)

Perhaps the second most common red flag is someone who asks for a discount with no real justification. With our company, we always work with our customers to make our solution fit their circumstances, especially schools and non-profits. But asking us to drop our price by 25% or 30% with no reasoning is a huge sign of a bad customer.

3: Multiple Contacts, Often Through Multiple Channels

One of my favorites is to receive 3 emails (one each to our sales, support and info addresses), and a voice-mail from the same person within a few minutes.

I understand if the request is time-sensitive or if it is an emergency of sorts, but far too often the person just wants to make sure someone receives the non-time-sensitive message. And we do receive it…many times. Our company is known for its customer service and response time but even our team might not get back to you in minutes for your inquiry.

4: Unrealistic Expectations (Pre-sales)

Another good one is receiving more than 3 emails in two hours with increasing urgency, on a non-time sensitive pre-sales question that can typically be answered on our website. Something like:

Do you service Austin, Texas?

10 minutes later:

I wanted to make sure you received the previous email. Is your service available to out of state businesses?

30 minutes later:

Hello, is anyone there? I haven’t heard back from my previous email. Do you service Austin, Texas?

Another 20 minutes later:

WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING? DOES YOUR BUSINESS HANDLE OUT OF STATE COMPANIES OR NOT?!

5: Multiple Questions that Can Be Answered from Your Website

This one is common, and far from a deal-breaker. But it could be a warning sign of a future support burden, especially if you have a process that requires them to read and perform a list of steps.

My Advice

Sometimes it’s necessary to simply walk away.

Here is an example of closing remarks:

Thanks very much for your interest. I do not see this as a good fit for either party and I wish you the best in your development needs.

As long as you wrap up the conversation by respectfully pointing out differences and genuinely believe the customer will not be happy with the type of service your business offers then recommending that they explore a different solution is the right move. Remember you do reserve the right to sell your product or services (or not) to whom you choose, and I do not see this as a good fit for either party.

Conclusion

What have I learned? Pay attention to the early indications of a bad customer but don’t rush to write people off. There might be a gem of customer wrapped up in less-than-optimal communication process.

I hope this post has made you more adept at identifying potentially harmful customers early on in the process so you don’t continue to suck resources into bad customers.

Oh and for those who say “The customers always right…” Keep in mind that this is used most by nosy disgruntled customers.

If you’ve dealt with a toxic customer let’s discuss it in the comments. (Don’t use personal or business names)

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