February 7, 2012

Insatiable, Abusive Customers Need to be Fired!

By Patrick Mahan

Taking care of customers and providing them with world-class service is the lifeblood of your business. If you take care of your customers, then they will take care of you.

But what happens when a customer pushes the limits? Is there ever a time when it’s okay to fire a customer?

I think the general rule of thumb to remember is “bend, but don’t break.”

You should always bend over backwards for your customers. There will be times when they make unreasonable requests, but that’s all part of the deal. You should do everything in your power to make them happy. That is what exceeding expectations is all about.

And for the most part, when you go the extra mile for a customer, they will recognize that and reward you with repeat business and hopefully some referrals.

But no matter how hard you try to please everyone, some people are just never satisfied. They are insatiable. They push the limits and always want more. They want a better deal, better service, better price.  It’s all about them and “What else can you do for me?”  And if you don’t do it, then they threaten to leave. Or not pay.

When you come across a person like this, someone who drains your energy, tests your patience and makes you wish you had never gone into business... you have to step back and evaluate the relationship.  Ask yourself if this person is worth the headache.

Are they draining your time, energy and resources to a point where it’s negatively affecting your other clients? Do they call you and email you constantly with complaints? Do they continually beat you up over your price?  Are they abusive to your employees?

If so, it may be time to “fire” this customer.  Here are two words to remember when making this decision: Abusive and Insatiable.

Customers who are abusive and insatiable need to go. And don’t worry. They’ll find some other poor soul to latch on to.  Let them become a distraction for your competitor. Let them deal with the headaches and low profit margins while you focus on serving the loyal customers who appreciate your efforts.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever wanted to fire a customer or client? Did you do it? What was the result?

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  1. We're a small business-to-business advertising agency in Minnesota. We recently encountered an abusive and insatiable client in Texas. The first project we did with this client didn’t go well. She continued to change her mind and claim we were making errors and didn’t understand what she wanted. The truth is that we would do what she requested and then she’d change her mind. That should have been the first red flag.
    During that project we had estimated a catalog for her. We completed test photography and incurring other costs to sell the project. She had awarded it to us and then brought in a consultant. Together, the c consultant and her decided to take it out for bid. They told us that the two other companies bidding on it came in $10,000 less than we did. To get the project and recap our initial costs for test photography, we negotiated the price down. We explained that there wasn't room in the budget for alterations. As soon as they awarded us the project, they shortened the deadline by 4 weeks! I explained that we didn’t feel that we could meet the deadline but were willing to try. We put a schedule together and the client didn’t meet their deadlines for copy and layout approval or getting product to us for photography. We continued to remind them that we didn’t feel we could need the deadline because of their delays.
    We did an exceptional job on this project. We photographed over 300 products in a matter of days. We pulled several people in to help us with the work. And it looked amazing. But the client continued to express their disappointment all the way along. The last straw was when I received a call from the client while I was on a very rare 2 day vacation. It was 3 days before the deadline to be on press. At this point, we thought we were done and that we had completed most of their changes. We expected some minor corrections and then we would send high-res. PDFs to her print vendor.
    She informed me that they hadn't proofed it any of the last 3 times they had seen the project. Once again, she told her consultant and us how disappointed she was. After reviewing her changed, we discovered that most of her changes were in fact errors in the data they supplied. Of course, they didn't want to pay for it. She requested her source files sent to her printer so that they could make changes to the work locally (several states away). I drew the line in the sand. You want your files, you send me payment. She told me how offended she was. I explained that we had completed 99% of the project and only received 15% payment. And that if she wanted the source files and wanted to meet her deadline, she needed to pay us. She was offended and asked us to contact another one of her vendors to prove to use that she’s pay her bill. I didn't back down. At that point, if she’d decided to not pay us, I would be liable for a lot of money in outside costs and payroll.
    She had my team scrambling for over a month and it was impacting our work with other clients along with sucking up the time we needed to sell new projects. After she wired the money and we released the files, we received abusive e-mails for weeks. I walked away from that project with a strong desire to close my business. I've been in business for 11 years -- there isn't a client on earth that is worth that much trouble. It has taken us three weeks to start feeling motivated again.
    I always told myself to trust my gut. After that first project, my gut said that this client wasn’t worth the effort. Because we had some much into selling the project, I proceeded anyway. Ultimately, I should have listened to the inner voice that said RUN! While we received payment on a large portion of the project, we still need to send her a final invoice along with documentation as to what changes were hers. I’m fairly sure we’ll be in for another battle. Life is too short to have an abusive client.

    1. Wow! What a nightmare! That's quite an experience and I'm sorry you've had to deal with it. I can understand why you would be really frustrated. As you said, there were lots of red flags from the very beginning of the relationship. And when red flags pop up that early it's usually a bad sign for the road ahead. Bending over backwards for a customer is part of doing good business, but you can't allow yourself to break. And most importantly, you can't allow one customer to bring down your entire team. The old saying that the customer is always right IS WRONG! My mentor taught me to "run to good customers and run like hell from bad customers." Don't let it bring you down... I'm sure you and your team will come out of this stronger than before. And like you said... trust your gut instincts. They're usually right! Malcolm Gladwell wrote a best-selling book called "Blink" that talks about trusting your initial instincts. I'm glad you decided not to close your business. One of my favorite sayings is "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react." No one can steal your joy without your permission. Keep fighting the good fight and don't let one customer distract you from serving all of the other customers that appreciate your hard work. Good luck getting payment on your final invoice. And thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Hi just took the decision to fire one of those insatiable today.

    The client was so much of a night mare that I decided to loose all of my profit and see the complete job being refunded to not deal anymore with that night mare. Doesn't work to waste your life with those clients and spend energy when you have better customer to serve! Good point of view. The better learning on that one was that when you get to work free for a client or almost because he's insatiable... It is time to consider to fire him.

    Aftehall, we are in business to make money, not to loose money and spend enegergy with those clients that's make you feel miserable...

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. It's never an easy decision but hopefully you are feeling relief and can devote the time and energy you've recovered to the clients that truly appreciate your efforts! Good luck!

  4. THANK YOU!! I wish all business owners were as smart as you!!


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