Customer Independence Day

Spirit of 76*

If This Be Treason, Make the Most Of IT! (Patrick Henry)

The customer is always right, except when he is wrong. When we have bad customers, we should fire them. Declare today as Customer Independence Day, where we declare our independence from bad customers.

The Loophole

While the customer is always right, there’s a big loophole – when the customer is wrong, he should stop being our customer.

Hawkins on Firing Customers

Christopher Hawkins provides a list of 11 customer archetypes who should be fired. Having them as customers is just bad business. Christopher provides a lot more detail, and here is his list of abusive client types:

  1. The disillusioned
  2. The suspicious
  3. The chiseler
  4. The bully
  5. The something-for-nothing
  6. The slow-pay
  7. The flake
  8. The liar
  9. The blackmailer
  10. The money pit
  11. The clinger

Our Take

We agree that people who exhibit these traits tend to make bad customers, friends, bosses, etc. We should always strive to resolve conflicts or change the behavior of our clients when it is unacceptable. Only when all else fails should we abandon a customer because of a personality problem.

There are times when we have great relationships with our customers, and we simply become unaligned. We should fire those customers too. Perhaps the client’s strategy is changing, and it isn’t one we want to support. Perhaps the customer’s needs are such that they ask us to perform work that we choose not to do. Perhaps our direction has changed, or is evolving, away from an existing customer’s business needs.
We will dilute our efforts if we try and be all things to all people.

As a small company starting out, it can be very hard to walk away from a bad “opportunity” with no paying alternative in sight. Someone once said “the hard thing to do is often the right thing to do.” It could be for you. It has been for us in the past.

Be Professional

We’ve decided to fire customer X. We don’t want to dump a shipment of tea in the harbor. Customers have memories, and they also have friends. Even if we never want to work for customer X again, we don’t want a bad reputation.

Some things to do when separating from a customer:

  • Be courteous and polite.
  • Provide ample lead-time. Two weeks is a minimum, even if the customer wouldn’t have provided it to you. Some situations require more lead time.
  • Review your documentation and update it as needed. Presumably, someone else will take the post we decline (or abandon). Make sure they have all the information they need to know everything you did.
  • Be proactive about knowledge transfer. Don’t wait for the client to ask for knowledge transfer – actively contribute to the plan, and drive it forward.
  • Reccommend alternatives. If you can propose your own replacement (and vouch for her) – even better.

– –
*(based on The Spirit of ’76 by Archibald Willard 1836-1918)

2 thoughts on “Customer Independence Day

  1. Excellent post! You did a nice job of covering what is often a tough subject for people to get their arms around. As I read through the list I can remember firing 7, 8, and 9. I also appreciate your very helpful thoughts on what to do when you’re making the break!

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