Customer Experience News & Trends

5 signs a customer needs to go – and how to do it tactfully

Recognizing customers who need to go is usually easy. Deciding when – and how – to sever ties is a tougher task. Here’s help. 

Some customers are more bad than good for business.

Their “expectations can’t be met, other times customers require an inordinate amount of time, and on rare occasions, a customer’s behavior may expose an organization to undue peril,” says Kate Zabriskie, President of Business Training Works. “When any of those situations occur, it’s best to say ‘goodbye’ and do so quickly in a way that creates the least resentment on both sides.”

Here are five signs a customer needs to go – and tips on how to end it in each situation.

1. They cause most headaches

Perpetual squeaky wheels who upset employees and demand a lot more than they deserve will likely disrupt business more than they will contribute to it.

If they buy little and cost your people time and mental energy, they’re taking away from the proper care of good customers.

Goodbye move: “Rely on the classic ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ approach,” Zabriskie says.

Say: “I’m concerned that we’re doing a lot of rework for your firm. I’ve concluded that there has got to be someone who is a better fit for you. We’re not hitting the mark with you the way we do with our other customers. This isn’t good for you or us.”

2. They abuse employees

Customers who swear, yell, demean or harass employees should be fired (just like you’d likely fire an employee who did that to colleagues).

Goodbye move: Call out the inappropriate behavior in a calm and professional way.

Say: “Julie, we have a no profanity rule here. Respect is one of our core values, and we’ve agreed that we don’t yell and swear at our clients or each other. We expect that courtesy from our customers, too. You’re obviously unhappy, and my employees are too. For the benefit of everyone, at this point I think it’s best that we part company. We both deserve better.”

3. Their behavior isn’t ethical

Some customers don’t do business or live in line with the values and ethics your organization does. And you may not want to associate your organization with anyone whose business practices are illegal, immoral or routinely questionable.

Goodbye move: “When someone or an organization exposes you to unneeded risk, it’s prudent to disassociate yourself and your organization from them pronto,” Zabriskie says.

Say: “We’re a conservative organization. While we understand others have a more robust appetite for risk, it’s typically something we avoid. Another vendor is probably going to better meet your needs. At this point, we’re really just not a good fit.”

4. They put you at risk

If you spend a lot of time chasing payments and hearing more excuses why you shouldn’t or can’t be paid, it’s time to let those kinds of customers go.

Goodbye move: You can point to the deficiencies in payments and effects it has on the business relationship.

Say: “Janet, I know we’ve tried a range of payment options to make this relationship work. At this point, we simply don’t have the financial appetite to accommodate your payment schedule. For that reason, I’m asking you to find another vendor. We can’t accommodate the work.”

5. You don’t fit together

Some relationships end under no pretense. Both sides are just in different places than they were when the relationship started (whether it’s business or personal).

Goodbye Move: “This last goodbye is the hardest. When you find you and your customer are no longer compatible, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with something open-ended,” says Zabriskie.

Say: “I know where you started, and you’ve told me where your business is headed. And it’s good to hear that you’re comfortable where you are. That’s a nice place to be and go. As you may know, we’re on a growth strategy and have been for a couple of years. What concerns me is our ability to give you the attention in the future that we’ve been able to give you in the past. I think you deserve to work with a partner company that can make your work priority number one, and right now I don’t think that’s us.”




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