Divorce the Bad Customers

No I have not lost control of my mind! I know what you are thinking – the constant banter of how tough it is to sustain customers and then this exposition which actually says that is alright for a company to divorce the bad customers! Customers and business don’t grow on trees or fall from the sky – it is hard work to attract and retain customers and the popular view is that companies must go out of their way to retain their customer base. Making a decision of not working with a service provider or vendor seems to be the ‘bastion’ of clients and customers only and it seems completely out of place to suggest that service providers and vendors.

A company and its customers together form a relationship – the key word being relationship. Any relationship must be mutually acceptable and fruitful and whichever part of the relationship is not performing as per their promise should have to go. Those companies that realize this important fact also know that at some point they would need to divorce the bad customers.  Letting go of a client or customer is sometimes the only viable and sensible thing to do especially when a customer has caused some kind of damage or irreparable loss to the company or service provider and because of which there is a breach of trust and a dent in the relationship. If the relationship is one-sided, it will ultimately die but not without causing harm and problems, which can be avoided.

Divorce the bad customers must be seen in the same light as when customers let go of a company due to unfulfilled promises and or poor customer service. In the same way, if a customer is causing more distress and issues than contributing to the growth of the company, the relationship will cease to make sense and then the most prudent thing would be to divorce the bad customers. This makes more sense for small time businesses / single entrepreneurs / individual contributors and other such businesses for whom all resources are short as it is and therefore cannot afford to spend excess time, effort or money on customers who are not living up to their part of the relationship. Anyone reading this is either a customer or a service provider or both – with ‘both’ being the most common and therefore the idea to divorce your bad customers would make a lot of sense.

Have you noticed any customers / clients behaving in a manner that would justify a ‘divorce’ or are you the kind of customer or client that would be on the verge of being removed from a relationship? What are some of the reasons to divorce the bad customers?

  • As we mentioned, with growing competition and smaller profit margins, it becomes extremely vital that payments from customers are received on time. It is essential to have a steady cash flow to enable the maintenance of product and service quality. If in the long association with a client or customer, the dues seem to be increasing with sporadic, small or no payments being made and several requests and reminders seem to fall on ‘deaf ears’ you should know that it is time divorce the bad customers.
  • All customers complain – it comes with the ‘job description’ of being a customer or client! However, regular complaining and extremely demanding customers never have a good word about your company’s service and or products. They are the ones who would constantly deride and undermine your efforts and even spread negative impressions of your company to others. This would be despite the fact that your company has bent over backwards trying to comply with them – trying to provide whatever they need and yet the incessant complaining and negativity does not stop. They are bad for the health of your company – get rid of them.
  • There are some customers or clients who are only happy (if at all) when they seem to have your undivided attention. They need you to be there for them even during the hours that normal people eat and sleep. They constantly hanker after you and expect your company to respond immediately – round the clock. Such customers will call, email, expect to have regular face-to-face meetings (even when not required) and generally make your life hell. No company, however large, can afford to devote so much time and attention to one customer or even a few such customers. Divorce the bad customers.

You know what is best for your company and in line with this premise you would know when to break off the association with a customer or customers. The decision should also be yours and not just the prerogative of the customer. However, given that you do not function in isolation, it would be prudent to remain courteous and professional even post making the decision to sever ties with a customer – no one can force you to work with a customer.

Communication is the key – ensure that you first provide enough feedback and let the customer know that things are getting tough. If you do not provide some indication, the customer may continue to behave in an unacceptable manner, probably without even knowing that they are creating trouble. When the customers continue to conduct themselves in a manner that is inappropriate, your company would lose interest in serving them. A drop in service and product quality, could lead your customer to blame you for being slack and inefficient – this cannot be good for your company’s image or reputation. Choose to either give them feedback before-hand on what is not working or get beat up for no fault of yours.

The other approach some companies use to divorce the bad customers is to suggest the service and products of another company and by highlighting the positive points of the other company. There could be a number of reasons you could give, including things like – the other company is at closer proximity and such others. You could also express your inability to assist too many customers and therefore are ‘downsizing’ your customer base. Ensure that you mention that you will be glad to assist them during the transition to a new service provider and that you regret your inability to be able to serve them. The idea is to get out of a bad relationship in the smoothest and least hurting manner as possible – quite similar to personal relationships that go bad.

If you find it hard to divorce the bad customers without hurting their feelings or the reputation of your company, you could try the tactic of raising charges / fees beyond what would seem reasonable. If you are absolutely certain that you want a customer or some customers to leave, send a letter to them stating inevitable reasons and ask for acceptance on the new structure of charges. Most bad customers would choose to leave rather than pay the increased amount.

If you can and feel that using the direct approach is best, go ahead and use it. Let the customers know that the relationship is getting difficult to manage – however, just like with all negative feedback, ensure that you steer clear of the blame game and only state the facts. You don’t want to have an angry customer or client who would have the ability to post negative comments and influence others to not do business with you even though they may be at fault. Handle the ‘divorce’ gently and prudently. Let them know that you are unable to feel good about managing them – no one can tell you that your feelings are incorrect.

Having mentioned all the above, it is for your company to decide whether you wish to continue with bad customers for a while longer simply because the money you earn from them is currently a requirement for you. Also take time to attract a new customer who will provide you either with the same earning potential or better – and once you are able to gain new customers, you could let go and divorce the bad customers.

We don’t disagree that customers are the foundation of any business and that they must be respected and valued, since without them there would be no business. However, if this very foundation seems to be causing trouble, making you lose peace of mind and dropping your efficiency, we think that the idea to divorce your bad customers is not such a bad one. What do you think?

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