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Firing the Customer

A strategy to keep employees motivated to deliver customer service.

I just read a great article in Inc. Magazine by Steve Cody titled Five Customers You Should Fire.  In the 18 years he has been in business he has had to exercise the termination clause in his contract five times.  In other words, he fired his customers.  So, what does that have to do with customer service?

While Cody’s article really wasn’t about customer service, it still compelled me to write this article. There is one type of customer that I believe you should consider firing, and it has everything to do with customer service. This customer affects the morale and motivation of the employees to deliver a great customer service experience.  There are certain customers that may abuse your system and even your employees, which may call for the drastic measure of letting these customers know you no longer wish to do business with them.

As I was considering writing about this topic, I had a discussion with a colleague who presented a valid argument: Firing the customer could be a problem if the customer happens to be one of the company’s top customers.

I wouldn’t want to lose one of my best customers either, but that doesn’t mean the customer, even if he or she is the company’s best customer, has the right to abuse employees.  So, you may not fire the customer, but it surely warrants a discussion.  If leadership won’t stand up for or support employees, you can’t expect the employees to stay motivated and be at the top of their game when it comes to taking care of customers – especially the abusive type.

The concept I call The Employee Golden Rule is to treat employees the way you want the customer treated. This is about congruency.  A boss (manager or leader) can’t be abusive to employees and then tell them to go out and be nice to customers.  The concept of the customer abusing employees is a twist on the Employee Golden Rule.  Leadership must defend their culture and stand up to customers that are abusive to employees.  If they don’t, it sends a number of bad messages:

  1. Perhaps management isn’t strong enough to stand up to these abusive customers.  That doesn’t look good.
  2. It may look like management doesn’t care.
  3. Even worse is that is that the employees figure out that management doesn’t “have their back.”

It won’t take long for the employees to lose their motivation, which could cause them to lack the drive to give their best effort in every customer situation.

In certain situations, firing the customer may be a drastic, although necessary, measure.  Just like you might have a discussion with an employee that makes a mistake, you would surely consider a discussion with the customer to get back on the right track.  But unfortunately, some customers may not be worth doing business with.

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times     bestselling business author. For information contact (314) 692-2200 or www.hyken.com. For information on The  Customer  Focus™ customer service training programs go to http://www.thecustomerfocus.com. Follow on Twitter: @Hyken

(Copyright ©MMXIII, Shep Hyken)

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8 Responses to Firing the Customer

  1. Elaine Fogel says:

    Excellent point, Shep, and one that is often overlooked. Keeping employees committed also means being committed to their well-being.

  2. Shep Hyken says:

    Well said, Elaine! Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  3. Great Article Shep! I personally have found this to be a really difficult balance to strike. I find that often a belligerent customer is just doing so to get attention from someone who can fix their problem. In other cases, I’ve laid down ground rules with a customer who was disrespectful and it actually worked. I find I’ve actually fired very few but more often will make myself the direct contact for a customer so they don’t have to interact with our other staff anymore.

  4. shephyken says:

    Hi Jeremy – Great way to handle it. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I love this line item: “…A boss (manager or leader) can’t be abusive to employees and then tell them to go out and be nice to customers.” Reminds me of a butterfly effect. Now, here’s what confuses me though – they say that to attract leads, you have to give something for free. Then, you simply attract free loaders. There’s this study somewhere that says customers put more value on something with a price tag. If you’re running a business on a freemium model, should you fire these freeloaders instead when you start monetizing.. or can they be converted?

    • shephyken says:

      Hi Marissa – Thank you for your comment – and your question. When starting out on a “freemium model” with the intention of eventually monetizing, there needs to be a plan to convert ahead, or you risk losing your initial customer base. That’s not firing them. It’s them leaving you. They are saying your product was worth using at this price (free) and not valuable enough to pay for.

  6. “If leadership won’t stand up for or support employees, you can’t expect the employees to stay motivated and be at the top of their game when it comes to taking care of customers”

    Great point! There has to be the internal support coming from the top levels down so you employees know they aren’t on their own when it comes to dealing with customers. While we’re all bound to deal with an angry customer every now and again, when you are constantly getting brow beaten and your management isn’t stepping in to support you why would you want to go that extra mile for that customer? You just want to get them off the phone as quickly as you can.

  7. Shep Hyken says:

    Well said, Trish. Thanks for stopping by and leaving an excellent comment. Spot on!

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