Is It OK to Fire a Client/Customer?

Sally Balwin Recruitment HRM Business Development Organisational Development Brisbane Brendale Strathpine Albany Creek

Sally Balwin
Recruitment | HR | Business Development

Our Albany Creek Business Contacts (ACBC) member is in a pickle processing the loss of their very first client.  After agonizing over what more they could have done, sharing their story raised the questions – is it OK to fire a client and, if so, how do you do it in the most positive light?

Their story goes – the nature of the business is not 9 to 5 nor is it walk-in customer service.  Our member is a specialist in their industry and, although operating out of commercial premises, promotes that some of their services is by appointment only.  The existing promotion has worked well to date – however, enter client who wants things done differently.  This client has an expectation of service delivery when they want and, in some instances, upon very short demand.  After detailed explanation that this cannot be accommodated and offered alternate solutions, the client walked with parting words of not feeling valued and not getting what they wanted. Like most business owners, the raft of guilt, emotion and questions flowed – did I not handle this correctly – should I have done what they wanted regardless – could I have done more – do I need to change the way I do things – and so it goes on.

If you are a business owner reading this, by this stage I have no doubt you are empathizing with this situation, no doubt from personal experience.  Here is what the ACBC members had to share with our colleague.

Kudos goes first of all to Damian Jenkins, Australian Unity, North Lakes who gave us our first collective agreement – “The first client lost is always the hardest – so now that is behind you” he said.  Damien continued to share his insight by suggesting that they ensure their business operations model is well defined and well communicated.

Small businesses tend to be more personable and relationship based but as Andrew Gallagher, Lollyworld reminded us “we don’t gel with everyone and sometimes there will be a client/customer relationship that just doesn’t work”.

The group agreed that there are common signs that a relationship maybe heading south, such as –

  • clients/customers demanding over servicing – almost taking advantage,
  • slow payment of bills requiring lots of chasing,
  • querying and questioning everything and
  • master/servant demeanor, to name a few.

It was agreed that business owners need to identify good ideal clients/customers and determine what, if anything, extra would be provided to each class of client.  Nathan Dobbins, Core Computers also suggested some businesses could develop a Client/Customer Charter which sets out what the expectations and responsibilities are of both the business and the client/customer and to communicate this extensively so there are no misunderstandings or unrealistic expectations.

OK, by this stage everyone has agreed that not all clients/customers are good client/customers and that it is OK to part ways  …  which then raises the question, how to do it in the most positive way.

Sometimes you have to have some very difficult conversations with very nice people.  You can explain that what the client/customer is after you can’t deliver but explain what you can do for them and note that you understand if this doesn’t work for them.  If you can, assist or refer them to someone who could better service them which makes the client/customer feel like you are still valuing and helping them.  If you decide that you will accommodate difficult clients you may need to review your pricing structure and charge a premium to them for the additional servicing.

Sandra Gilliman, Streten Masons Lawyers summed it up nicely, “If you have done, within reason, what you can, let the client/customer go and trust that your reputation will stand on its own.”

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