When Customers Behave Badly – 3 Reasons to Fire Your Customers

“The customer is always right.” How many times have you heard this adage reaffirmed by well-intentioned managers? It sounds customer friendly, but it isn’t realistic. No human being is always right. And, it’s definitely not corporate friendly.

The problem with declaring that “the customer is always right”, is that it includes everyone who purchases from you at any time and some that might just be thinking about buying. But what happens when a customer returns everything they’ve purchased after wearing them for six months? Or, when another one demands payment in the form of a discount or free merchandise for a perceived slight? Are those customers right?

No, they aren’t. And the best thing you can do is to resolve the issue if possible and fire the customer.

I fired my first customer in 1993 when I was the COO at Ballard Designs, Inc.

Long before permission marketing was a new idea, we had a strict policy against mailing or renting names that didn’t want to receive marketing materials. Our customer care team always asked our shoppers if it was okay to mail to them.

After one gentleman placed an order, his name was added to our catalog and rental lists. A few months later, he called and complained. He said that he requested a no mail status (in hindsight that should have been a clue that he had done this before) and that we had violated his privacy. The CSR apologized and asked what she could do to make it right. He said that she could send him a $70 awning at no charge. She did. She also explained that it would take 6-8 weeks for his name to cycle out of the lists.

A few weeks later, he called back with the same complaint and received another awning. Our CSR’s had been trained that the customer was always right. They were empowered to automatically issue credits, offer discounts, or send merchandise provided it was below a certain cost. He was told again that it would take some time for his name to cycle out.

Time passed and, you guessed it, he called again.

The third call sent him to the customer service manager who told him (nicely, of course) that he would not receive any more restitution for the name issue. He became abusive and more demanding. The manager referred him to me.

Before taking his call, I read the comments in his customer file. He had been a customer for about two years without any returns. Even with the two free awnings, his purchases provided us with a return on our investment. The team members who had served him were some of our best employees. I knew that each one had asked about participation in the mailing list and he had agreed. We had been set up.

When I spoke with him, I asked him to update me. He said that he had requested to be removed from the mailing list twice, but he was still receiving catalogs. He failed to mention that he had received two free awnings. I asked what we could do to make it right and he suggested that we send him an awning. I then asked why would I think that an awning would resolve the issue when he has already received two and there was still a problem. After a moment of silence, he responded that he didn’t know, but stated that he was still dissatisfied. I explained that we had exhausted our options. It was obvious that his expectations weren’t aligned with our service, so I fired him.

It was an obvious choice to fire that customer.

But, what if there were others that weren’t as clear-cut? I realized that we needed to replace one word in our customer rights policy. We changed it to “our customers are always right” and clearly identified our customers. The specifics aren’t important to this posting. Suffice it to say that people who made unreasonable demands were not our target market and therefore not our customers.

The change in policy didn’t affect our sales, but it did improve employee morale. Our customer care team realized that we valued their contribution and didn’t expect them to be abused by people having a bad day or wanting something from nothing.

If you are thinking of firing some customers, here are three good reasons:

  1. Abusive or threatening behavior. Your customer care team members are not punching bags for verbal or physical abuse. If a customer becomes aggressive, calmly ask him or her how you can resolve the issue. If the request is unreasonable, calmly say that you can’t do that. If you remain calm, it usually defuses the anger and all is well. If it isn’t, hang up the phone or ask the customer to leave.
  2. Unreasonable expectations. Some people expect the world on a silver platter. They want to combine multiple discounts. Or, receive free add-ons. Or, become a lifetime member in your elite customer program by placing one order. If a customer expects more that you are able (or willing) to provide, let him or her go.
  3. Poor return on investment. Unless someone changed the rules while I was sleeping, the purpose of business is to generate a profit by serving customers. If any of your customers aren’t providing a return on your investment then they don’t fit. Let them, no, encourage them, to go to your competition.

Firing customers doesn’t always require a confrontation. If you stop marketing to them, they may simply disappear. If you have to tell them, be direct, honest, and quick. It’s the best for everyone.

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • TamarahLand

    But what happens when a customer returns everything they’ve purchased after wearing them for six months? Or, when another one demands payment in the form of a discount or free merchandise for a perceived slight? Are those customers right?

    No, they aren’t. And the best thing you can do is to resolve the issue if possible and fire the customer.

    Truer words may have been spoken, but not as far as I can tell. Lol. I’ve said this to…um.. *people* and got that stare in return. The stare that says how dare you think you’re more important than the customer. Untrue. I don’t think I’m more important than the customer. However, I recognize that without me, there would be no place for the customers to shop. This is why I say one day there will be robot cashiers and sales rep’s because no human will be willing to take the abuse any longer.

  • Debra Ellis

    Thank you for your comment. Some companies are already opting for “robot cashiers and sales reps” because it is more economical. Gas stations come to immediately to mind with pay at the pump technology.

    Consumers have adapted to the gas and go model and may accept similar models for other products and services. But people still need to connect with each other. As technology continues to isolate us, people will flock to companies where there is still a human connection.

  • TamarahLand

    I certainly hope they begin to respect that connection.

    TamarahLand’s last blog post..Starting An Internship? Offer Some Advice To Your Fellow Gen-Y’ers


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