Frequent blogger, Monica Wofford, CSP is the CEO of Contagious Companies, Inc. and author of Contagious Leadership.

Can you really AFFORD to fire a customer?

Not long ago, a popular magazine editor called to ask my opinion on an article. His first question was “Can you tell me the times when a company should fire a customer and why that’s necessary?” And my answer? Well, it began with something like “I’m not sure you ever should”.

Firing customers in my opinion is never a good long term plan and it’s also not a forgone conclusion that should be worked into your policy manual. In fact, it’s not a policy we subscribe to at all and here are three thoughts on why that is.

Before You Fire, Look at Why You Hired

If you feel the need to fire a customer, you’re looking at it from the perspective that they might be a pain or causing too much of a burden or costing your more than they’re bringing in. Credit card companies seem to think this was an appropriate action in recent years and what it’s brought them is fear, resentment and a customer mutiny in some cases. Look at what your customer came to you looking for in the first place. Did you take them in because they were the only customer at the time or because you really thought you could help them? Did you begin the relationship with serving them in mind or taking their money as the focus? The first will likely result in an early mutual loyalty, the latter may result in you feeling you have to fire them when in fact, you weren’t interested in serving them in the first place. Hmmm…

What Have You Trained Them to Do?

We train others how to treat us and thus, when someone is doing something you don’t like, it is always best to consider your part in that equation. What have you trained that customer you’re now considering letting go, to do that is bothering you so much. Maybe the change needs to come not in firing them, but in changing an internal policy or procedure that trained them to do what you don’t like in the beginning.

Can You Afford to Fire Them?

One of the key reasons organizations begin to consider firing a customer is due to the fact that they have become so irate or so angry or difficult to deal with, that manager rationalize it is costing them more to keep them than to let them go. Hmmm… let’s look at this. Once you invoke the emotions of a customer or make them really, really, angry, say by firing them or telling them they are no longer welcome, just how many folks do you think they’ll tell that story to? And whether you think they have friends, or are credible or believable to any of them is not an important as the few folks who may believe them and never enter into a relationship with your business. Can you really afford that kind of PR?

The truth is with customers that those who love doing business with you will stay between 10 years and a lifetime. Those who don’t like doing business with you will “Vote with their feet” and you never have to fire them anyway. Those who are indifferent, will require a personal reason to stay and become loyal. Maybe you focus your energy on the “likes” and the “indifferents”, rather than those you don’t want to stay. Let them fire themselves and then the story they tell won’t cost you more customers.

Stay Contagious!

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