Sometimes, You Need To Fire a Customer

With small businesses still being buffeted by a sluggish economy, we need to keep every customer we have, right? However, recently I have seen a number of articles making a valid case for doing just the opposite, getting rid of, or stopping to pay attention to customers who are a drain on your systems, and worse yet annoying your good customers.

Here a few examples I have seen recently:

Jackie Huba writes about the The Alamo Drafthouse in Texas.  They will ask noisy patrons to leave because they destroy the experience for others.  If they allowed it to continue, the other patrons would chose not to return.  She says:

If you stand with your best customers at the expense of the bad ones, you’ll win bigger. The customer is always right — if it’s the right customer.

The same day I read Jackie’s column, I found one by Erik Deckers about another  Texas company,  Southwest Airlines.  They are known for doing everything possible to make the flights comfortable and fun, but a screaming child just isn’t fun.  So, on a recent flight, they booted Pamela Root and her 2-year-old son Adam off their flight in Amarillo, Texas, after he continually screams “Go! Plane! Go!” and “I want Daddy!”

And before you begin believing this trend is just a “Texas” thing, check out the case Seth Godin makes for focusing on your best cusomters. He says:

Every industry has people who are worth more, buzz more, care more and buy more than other people. Don’t treat people the same, find the ones that matter more to you, and hug them.

So have you hugged your best customers lately?


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  • Dan Finney Design

    I also employ a slightly more subtle technique than an all-out firing of a client. Some of my best clients will ask for a service then wait patiently and quietly for it to be accomplished. Other clients will ask for a service and then start what I like to call a squeaky-wheel-gets-the-grease campaign. I make a careful choice to work on the quiet client’s project first (assuming they were requested at the same time).

    1. It is just too easy to get caught up in the fake panic and delay the quiet client’s project
    2. I want to foster and reward the good behavior, not the bad
    3. The quiet client will leave just as quietly and you will never know why

    Over time I have found that I end up with more of the quiet/patient clients than the squeaky clients.

  • Tracie Mrakich

    Nice post Lorraine!

    It is not unusual in the course of providing loyalty research for our clients that we uncover customer and or customer segments that are not the right fit for our customers’ business model. Even in these tough times, sometimes the best course of action is to fire those customers and free up your limited resources to dedicate to your best customers, or addressing uncovered issues to turn a neutral customer into a loyal customer advocate.

  • Lorraine

    There are lots of techniques to manage your customers, you have hit on an important one, reinforce the behavior you want to see repeated. And also, taking care of the quiet clients, by asking them questions to discover information you may never get otherwise provides valuable insight into your business.

    In good and bad times, Bad Clients are Bad Clients!

  • Tracie Mrakich

    Of course, but in bad times, companies may be reluctant to fire their bad clients.

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  • Akash Sharma

    Great out of the box post, Thanks for sharing Lorraine..I think it does not needs a lot of brainstorming but yes a an open minded approach to differentiate the positive evangelists out of our customers and as far as the noisy customers are concerned we should try our best to solve there problems and in case they still don’t get it, we should do the needful as the title of this post suggests.

  • Lorraine

    Thanks Akash.. It is always a hard choice, but usually you know what you need to do