Go on: Fire your customers, it’s healthy

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The customer is always right. Or at least, that’s what we’ve been taught.

As a small business owner, you’ve probably been told that you should please every customer to maintain and boost your brand’s image.

But are customers really right all the time?

Just remember that nagging customer you’ve had who’s always so demanding of your time. Yeah, you know the one: they think that they’re your number one VIP customer, so all they do is complain about literally anything - and they’re mostly nonsensical issues too.

You give them a digital marketing strategy that’s worked for many, but you’re greeted with endless emails and calls from them, whining about how it’s “not working”.

“Why did it cost so much?” “Why hasn’t it generated leads yet?” “Do your staff know what they’re doing?” “It’s cheaper elsewhere.”

They just rattle on, and on, and on, and if you don’t get pissed by all of that, then hats off to you - you’re a saint.

People like this are a distraction to your end goal, so how should you respond to them?

In the words of Donald Trump, tell them, “You’re fired!” (But say it nicely)

How to identify customers you should fire

Holding on to bad practices sets your small business up for failure. That includes keeping bad customers.

To get rid of them, the first thing you need to do is to identify who the bad customers are before you start firing them.

Here are telltale signs of a bad customer:

They’re never satisfied.

Complaints, complaints, and last-minute changes… always.

They complain about one thing, then once you fix it, they find a new thing to complain about. It just never ends.

You’ll find yourself drained and lost on how to turn them into happy customers. The sad part? You can’t.

You know your services better than anyone else, so if you know that what you provided is working as intended, then their unwarranted complaints should stop being your problem.

They don’t want your expertise.

It’s your business and you’re obviously experienced in what you’re offering, but then there’s always that one customer who thinks they know better.

Think about it this way: If they know how to get things done more than your entire business does, then why are they paying you to do the work in the first place?

It’s always important to take what the customer wants into consideration, but when they keep asking for things that are bad or impossible, then consider letting them go.

They’re rude and unfair to your staff.

These people act like a “Karen” who always looks down on your staff and is a total diva whenever they ask for something. They start raging just because your staff didn’t act on their demands “fast enough”.

For small businesses, your employees are actually your most important customers, and allowing them to be degraded by others is harmful to them and your work culture.

They’re control freaks.

These customers seem to have trust issues - they watch your every move like a guard dog, and when you make one move that they don’t like, they’re quick to pounce at you and get on your case.

They’re basically micromanagers who are critical of everything you do and won’t let you do your job in peace.

They always delay payments they owe you.

This is never a good sign.

It’s normal for a customer to occasionally be delayed with payments. But if it keeps happening, then they’re just taking you for granted. You’ll end up doubting if they’re even going to pay you at all!

Remember, your business runs on your cash flow, and you want to keep that value positive.

Why you need to fire customers like this

Having to put up with customers who always take you for granted is not only a pain in the ass; it’s a waste of time and energy.

Bad customers take up too much of your time and in effect, they take you away from more valuable work. Instead of using your resources to please them, you could already be entertaining two or more happy customers. 

They always think you’re at their beck and call and just expect you to solve their issues right away. They don’t respect your time - you’ll receive calls and complaints from them even away from your work hours.

Talk about ruining a good night’s sleep!

Lastly, all the time and effort you put into these multiple last-minute changes risk costing you money.

So in the end, these customers are just not worth trouble you had to go through.

How to fire customers (while keeping your dignity) 

I know, I know. When you’re dealing with bad customers, it’s so tempting to yell and scream at them for the headaches they’ve caused you.

But you need to be smarter than that.

There’s an appropriate and civil way to tell customers that you don’t want to work with them anymore.

Here are my tips on how you can execute a proper “You’re fired!” farewell to your not-so-dear customers:

#1: Remain level-headed in conversations with them.

They may have been rude, entitled, and disrespectful in every way, but don’t lower yourself to their level. You’ll turn into the exact kind of person you don’t want to be. 

Fighting fire with fire will only make things worse, and it’ll look bad for your brand’s image too.

#2: Be practical and show examples of the things they’ve done.

When you try to explain what led to this situation, chances are, they’ll be in denial about it and tell you that you’re too sensitive or overreacting, or that you’re just not doing your job right.

Show them the call log filled with their name, their angry texts and emails, and everything else that proves your case.

#3: Explain that you don’t let you and your staff behave the way this customer does.

It’s counterproductive to work with external parties who don’t align with your values. It affects the work culture that you’re trying to build, and it leads to low employee morale.

Bad culture is the bane of an emerging business.

Want to avoid customers like this right from the start?

Building good culture within your small business is the best way to combat bad customers.

If you live by your culture, disruptive customers won’t stick around long enough. In fact, they probably even won’t sign up to begin with.

Brand values are the root of your business’ culture and there are steps you need to take to find the right values for your business, namely:

  1. Discover what matters.
  2. Know your customers and competitors.
  3. Stand for something.
  4. Stay consistent.

By taking these steps, you’ll be able to steer clear from toxic customers who don’t offer anything for your business’ growth.

The customer is always right - but only in their perspective. While customer satisfaction must be a priority in every business and your business will always have room to improve, there are limits to what behaviour is acceptable from your customers.

Don’t ever let your customers walk all over you and your staff. Never prioritise pleasing a bad apple over those who sincerely support and uplift your business. It’s a waste of time, energy, and money to do so.

Getting rid of a toxic customer is a win for your business, not a loss.

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