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How to Fire Bad Customers: A Simple Framework for Small Business Owners

How to Fire Bad Customers: A Simple Framework for Small Business Owners

After your sales team scratches and claws for each account, it is often easy to forget about purposefully curbing your client list. No matter how important your customers are to you, some of them just aren’t worth the time.

Below, we discuss how to figure out if a customer is bad enough to fire, and what you can do about it.

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Differentiating “good” and “bad” customers

The first step is determining whether or not you actually have any bad customers. One thing you do not want to do is simply pick the customers that complain the most and get rid of them. These customers are actually extremely valuable. A recent survey found that if 27 people experience a problem, only one actually reports it. Without those people alerting you to your shortcomings, you may never know how to improve for the rest of your customers.

Here are some important questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether a customer is worth firing or not:

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  • Do you make money from the account? If you are actually losing money on a customer due to frequent returns, outrageous demands, or slow payments, you can get rid of them without thinking twice.
  • What is the opportunity cost of servicing them? Consider whether or not you are spending too much time on low-profit customers. Usually, this time can be better spent focusing on growing higher potential accounts.
  • Does the customer hurt morale? Some customers will be profitable, but treat their account managers or sales representatives abusively. If their behavior is severe enough, cutting ties could be warranted.
  • What else do they bring to the table? Think carefully about any other benefits a customer might bring to the table for you. For example, if they have offered referrals or positive reviews in the past, even if they are not profitable or are hard to deal with, the ancillary benefits could be worth keeping them around.

Contemplating your alternatives

After identifying your problem customers, avoid cutting them loose immediately. Take the time to see if there are any alternatives available to you. You might consider hiring a junior salesperson to handle lower-value accounts while the experienced reps take care of the most important ones.

Another good strategy is simply laying out the facts instead of cutting ties with them. Explain the problems that you are having with them in a polite manner. Let the customer decide if they are willing to make fewer demands or would prefer to find another vendor. They might be unaware that they have been difficult, or quite willing to lower their demands in order to save the business relationship.

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Breaking the bad news

If you have determined that a customer is no longer worth your time and there aren’t any alternatives available, you must figure out how to fire them gracefully. This is an uncommon business proposition and can be quite awkward. However, you can take the following steps to ensure that the separation goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Keep it short and professional. Do not bring emotion into the conversation or engage in any arguments. Simply let your former client know that you will no longer be doing business with them.
  • Offer a referral. If you are comfortable doing so, provide the customer with the name of a competitor who might be a better fit for them. Doing so will minimize the impact on their operations and lower the chance that they will spread ill will towards your company.
  • Try to leave the door open. The only consistent thing in business is change. A company’s budget could increase exponentially, or their purchasing manager may change. Leave on the best terms you can in order to keep your options together open in the future.

Nipping the problem in the bud

As you weed your problem customers out, take care to identify any patterns between them. You might notice that businesses of a certain size or in a certain industry tend to cause more problems. Take a look for any early warning signs that raised a red flag early in your business relationship. Identify these customers and try to train them better from the very start. In many cases, you can preemptively avoid account issues with strategic customer onboarding. The better you become at nullifying problem customers from the beginning, the less time you will waste handling and firing them in the future.

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Getting rid a customer is never an easy proposition. Having the chance to develop more profitable relationships and relieve your account managers of unnecessary hassle, however, is well worth the effort. By following the steps outlined above, you will drive more revenue and make life easier on your employees.

Featured photo credit: VIKTOR HANACEK via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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