6 Red Flags That Tell You It's Time to Fire That Customer — Now
Don't let misfit customers drain your resources and derail your business. Here are six red flags that should tell you that you need to fire that problematic customer before one more payment gets processed.
The customer is always right, right? When you're dealing with any of the toxic customers represented below, I'm not so sure. While misbehaving customers sounds like a success problem, it's one of the unexpected intrusions that can send otherwise confident, capable entrepreneurs off their game and off their rocker. Sometimes, your best bet is to cut them loose and take the "L." Here are six red flags to let you know it's time to do that.
One of the keys to a successful, smooth-running business is to hold clear-cut, well-defined and directly communicated boundaries around what you offer. In other words, your product or service shouldn't be vague or open to interpretation. Mine wasn't, but a few hungry customers still attempted to take advantage of my company's kindness.
We gave them what they paid for, but they wanted more. Wants turned into demands, which turned into expectations we bent over backward to meet, and it still wasn't enough. If a customer appears insatiable, showing their impossibly high-maintenance colors upfront, you're better off setting clear expectations at the risk of disappointing them than bending to their every request. Insatiable customers by definition can't be satisfied, and it likely isn't worth your team's time fighting a losing uphill battle.
2. Reputational risk
Believe it or not, some customers out themselves as dangerous before making their first purchase. These are the people who tell you they've never been happy with a service provider in your industry. They brag about bad-mouthing other businesses that "did them wrong" and leaving scathing one-star reviews online. Simply put, these customers prove they could — and may — be retaliatory, volatile and a reputational risk if you don't live up to their sky-high expectations. Don't walk into a sabotage trap if a prospective customer flashes every preemptive warning. You have the right to refuse service; use it.
3. Polluting the pond
I recently encountered a strange and surprising situation in which one customer began polluting the pond, disrupting and disrespecting the rest of our client base. While that isn't necessarily my company's fault, it was on our turf, and thus, it felt like our responsibility to address it. Imagine you're in a store and one shopper begins harming, offending or otherwise interfering with other shoppers' experience. Will you tiptoe around the bad apple so you don't jeopardize losing their sale, or protect the rest of the crowd at the expense of making one enemy and incurring a potential dispute or chargeback? In this case, it's a numbers game, and if one bad apple is ruining your company's offerings for the whole bunch, the rotten fruit has to go.
4. Flip flop
Have you ever had that client purchase one product or service, then turn around and ask for something entirely different? Or worse, have you ever had a customer attempt to redirect your team's progress on an order by adding ten different customizations for which they never paid? If a customer changes their mind, request or requirements after purchasing your product or service, they should be willing to pay the increased price or accept whatever delays their flip-flopping might incur. If they refuse to reframe their expectations and show some appreciation for your flexibility (despite the inconvenience they've created), that's probably a sign reasonable, achievable expectations aren't in their wheelhouse. Be straightforward, stand your ground, and don't let them bully you into a wild goose chase you can't possibly win.
5. Infecting the team
When you deal with enough different people, you start to realize that some customers are just plain mean or inconsiderate. You don't have to be best friends with every person who purchases your company's product, but if a customer's behavior or treatment and attitude is ruining your or your team's morale and subsequently wasting your time attempting to placate them, they probably aren't worth the time to begin with. Let them go now; your team will thank you later.
6. Don't hate the game, fire the player
There have been a few distinct, but repeated incidents in my entrepreneurial career in which tolerating and catering to an incredibly difficult customer made me begin to hate, dread or fear my own business and forget that I was in control. If you're allowing a customer to poison your business experience with a company you own, that's a sign they've crossed an unacceptable line and should be shown the door. Being the entrepreneur means that you're in control, not them. Bullying customers don't get to call the shots, set the tone or decide what services you offer, the prices you set for them or when or how they're executed. Don't hate the game (the business you've built and own); simply fire the player that doesn't deserve access to you, your team or your company's products or services.
It's easy to hope or assume you'll never encounter a problematic customer, and thus, won't have to face an uncomfortable confrontation. Unfortunately, the one challenge most businesses can't avoid is the unpredictability of circumstances and people. Hope for the best, but expect, brace yourself, and prepare for the worst — or the weirdest — and you'll be much better equipped to handle the downs that often accompany the ups of sales, growth and success.
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