So what do you do when you find yourself in a situation with an unreasonable customer? Here are some tips to help you handle the situation tactfully:
Spotting a problem individual before he/she becomes a customer is the best way to avoid a firestorm later on. By simply saying no from the beginning, you can spare yourself a lot of drama later on (or at least know to price your services so that you won’t lose money on the amount of time it will take to manage that more demanding account). Will a potential customer feel rejected? Sure, but this initial rejection will sting less than being fired later on down the road. It will most likely also curb any negative fallout that might ensue.
You don’t necessarily have to reject potential customers outright once you realize that they’re needs are going to be heavier than a typical client either. Instead, you can just set firm boundaries early on of what you will and will not do so that they’re not dissatisfied later on when you say no. This type of approach sets precedent so that later on when you say no, it doesn’t come as a surprise. You can simply point to your original offer or agreement and remind them that what they want is more than you can offer.
Make it About You, Not Them
Obviously, the best course of action is to resolve any issues that you’re having with customers so that you can continue to offer them services; however, if you just really can’t get past these issues, you’ll have to decide if it makes sense to fire a particular customer. The easiest way to know if you’re in this situation is to assess whether or not keeping one customer is hurting the service you’re able to provide to the rest of your customer base. For small businesses this threshold will be lower than it will be for bigger businesses because they have fewer employees to shoulder the burden. Once you’ve decided that you need to get the fire extinguisher to put out the storm, always remember this: Don’t go on the offensive when it comes to firing a customer!
I worked at a startup company once where a customer was dissatisfied with his service but instead of canceling, he would call in once a week and just fling insults at any rep he happened to get on the phone. He would refuse to get off the phone until his monthly charge was comped and if you did manage to get him off the phone, he would just send rapid fire emails all day to bog down the CRM. One day a manager got on the phone with him and finally just lost it. I’ll never forget, he said “I could help you, but the truth is I just really don’t like you! Stop calling!” … I’ll give you one guess as to how well that went over with the customer!
It’s a risky idea to tell a customer that their antics are getting them fired. Instead, frame the issue in a way that’s more about your business than their personality. Use phrases like “not within the project scope” and “outside of our core competencies” to address situations where the customer desires more than you can provide or want to do. Say things like “it seems like you’re looking for a more dedicated account relationship than we can provide” or “we don’t have the types of broad-based resources that you need to get started successfully” for customers that need a ton of hand holding. Use soft language and take the blame so that when you let go it feels more like a balloon floating away than a bomb going off.
Apologize earnestly that it didn’t work out and offer something to make cutting the ties less difficult. Offer a soft transfer to a different service provider or make recommendations of where they can go next so that you’re not cutting them loose without any direction. (Pro tip – don’t send him/her to one of your partners or that partnership may not last long!) If worse comes to worse, offer a partial refund or some other monetary consolation to reduce the sting a little bit. Just make sure that they understand that you feel as bad as they do about the business relationship coming to an end.
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Business Blogging and Web Copywriting. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and son and enjoys cooking, watching sports, and spending time together as a family. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about current marketing trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!