Firing the Customer

A strategy to keep employees motivated to deliver customer service.

Firing the Customer image Firing customer cartoonCustomer Service Cartoon by Shep HykenI just read a great article in Inc. Magazine by Steve Cody titled Five Customers You Should Fire. In the 18 years he has been in business he has had to exercise the termination clause in his contract five times. In other words, he fired his customers. So, what does that have to do with customer service?

While Cody’s article really wasn’t about customer service, it still compelled me to write this article. There is one type of customer that I believe you should consider firing, and it has everything to do with customer service. This customer affects the morale and motivation of the employees to deliver a great customer service experience. There are certain customers that may abuse your system and even your employees, which may call for the drastic measure of letting these customers know you no longer wish to do business with them.

As I was considering writing about this topic, I had a discussion with a colleague who presented a valid argument: Firing the customer could be a problem if the customer happens to be one of the company’s top customers.

I wouldn’t want to lose one of my best customers either, but that doesn’t mean the customer, even if he or she is the company’s best customer, has the right to abuse employees. So, you may not fire the customer, but it surely warrants a discussion. If leadership won’t stand up for or support employees, you can’t expect the employees to stay motivated and be at the top of their game when it comes to taking care of customers – especially the abusive type.

The concept I call The Employee Golden Rule is to treat employees the way you want the customer treated. This is about congruency. A boss (manager or leader) can’t be abusive to employees and then tell them to go out and be nice to customers. The concept of the customer abusing employees is a twist on the Employee Golden Rule. Leadership must defend their culture and stand up to customers that are abusive to employees. If they don’t, it sends a number of bad messages:

  1. Perhaps management isn’t strong enough to stand up to these abusive customers. That doesn’t look good.
  2. It may look like management doesn’t care.
  3. Even worse is that is that the employees figure out that management doesn’t “have their back.”

It won’t take long for the employees to lose their motivation, which could cause them to lack the drive to give their best effort in every customer situation.

In certain situations, firing the customer may be a drastic, although necessary, measure. Just like you might have a discussion with an employee that makes a mistake, you would surely consider a discussion with the customer to get back on the right track. But unfortunately, some customers may not be worth doing business with.

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