Is the Customer Always Right? Knowing When to Adjust Your Client Relationships

Not all client relationships are worth maintaining. These red flags may help you realize when an old client is no longer a good fit for your company.
September 07, 2017

We've all heard the saying, "The customer is always right." It doesn't matter how rude, dishonest or blatantly wrong they are, it's the job of customer service to appease them. But what if this cliché wasn't entirely true? Taking hold of your client relationships and firing customers who aren't a good fit for your company is actually what could drive your business forward.

Time Is a Commodity

Sinking your company's time and resources into bad customers is like burning money. 

No matter how many problems you solve, perpetually unhappy clients are unlikely to be satisfied. There is always a reason to demand faster service, more discounts, greater access to products or even free services. You can consider these customers the dead ends to your business.

By investing the same energy into your cooperative, enthusiastic customers, you could be turning those client relationships into lifetime brand ambassadors. These individuals can lead to more referrals and sales whereas the Negative Nellies probably won't. Ask yourself: Is it fair to treat your complaining clients to more perks and leniency than your loyal ones?

Cutting out the Mrs. Crabapples

Knowing when and how to fire your clients is challenging. Your business can't afford to reject every individual who vents to customer service, but it's also pricey to maintain client relationships that are looking to further their own agenda through dishonesty and complaints. 

The first red flag that it may be time to let your client go is when they bring in more stress than revenue.

When it comes to client relationships, not every client, no matter how regular they are, is worth saving.

You've possibly heard the story of "Mrs. Crabapple" and Southwest Airlines from Nuts!: Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. A regular flyer, known to the customer service department as “pen pal," became notorious for her consistent complaint letters to the company. 

Pen Pal found something wrong with every aspect of the airline, from their decision to not assign seats to the lack of an in-flight meal. When the reps finally reached a loss for how to respond to this permanently disgruntled client, they passed the case on to then-CEO Herb Kelleher. In a letter addressed to "Mrs. Crabapple," Kelleher informed Pen Pal that Southwest Airlines would miss her. 

Plain and simple, she was fired from her job as a customer.

When it comes to client relationships, not every client, no matter how regular they are, is worth saving. In the case of "Mrs. Crabapple," the client was causing more stress to Southwest's customer service team than the small revenue from her flight tickets was worth. By cutting ties, Southwest could spend the same energy on their loyal customers who would appreciate it.

Take Care of Your Employees First

Finding trustworthy employees who are dedicated to your company is no small feat. It's important to nurture these relationships by forbidding your customers from abusing them. 

When you allow clients to bully your employees into receiving special perks because they are “always right," resentment can brew among your reps. You must protect your employees, first and foremost, because they represent your brand. Happy customer service reps can lead to better service and higher morale.

You can build trust and loyalty among your people by favoring neither them nor the customer. Listen to both sides and defend your employees against mistreatment and dishonesty. 

Ultimatums Sometimes Work

Let's say you've taken stock of your client relationships. If letting go of problem clients makes your heart skip a beat, you don't have to immediately pull the trigger. Consider giving them an ultimatum: It's my way or the highway. 

If your unruly clients can't change their behaviors to better suit their business, they can find your service elsewhere. You'll be surprised by how many suddenly change their tune.

When a negative customer is absorbing more time and resources than your average client, I'd recommend ridding yourself of the dead weight. You could instead invest that wasted energy into your loyal customers who promote your business through word of mouth and can help increase sales. Don't be afraid to tell the customer when they're wrong.

Read more articles on customer relations.

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