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"It's Over" - Firing that Customer

"Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow." -- Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

BEING fired is never an easy experience. It ranks way up there alongside all the other unpleasant rejections in your life: you know, that 'Dear John/Joan' letter severing what you were sure was the love match of the century. Sometimes in business too it becomes necessary to jettison an unprofitable relationship and move on.

The world is in a recession and new business is scarcer than hen's teeth. Most companies are holding on for dear life to any long-standing business that they have and are certainly going overboard trying to retain and please their clients. Getting rid of a client and incoming revenue is the last item on any business's 'to-do-list' this year. How do you move towards making that final decision to cut that unbeneficial connection? And, how do you communicate to your client that "it's over"?

Step One -- Knowing when to say goodbye: Whoever came up with the notion that the customer is always right? I would like to meet him or her right now and recommend a lobotomy. The customer is not always right. You and I know this for a fact because we have been customers for most of our lives and there have been times when we have stood across from the cash register and we have been so, so very wrong. We could not have been more wrong than if we were the late great Michael Jackson's plastic surgeon singing praises about his last nose job. Face it, -- we were just wrong. But the cash or card in hand gave us an overwhelmingly insane sense of power. You know, the kind of maddening command of the security guard who deprecatingly directs you to 'park ova deh so', when 'deh so' is a ten-mile walk from the entrance of the business place you are visiting.

As a customer you may have wanted an immediate refund to rectify a bad 'buy' decision you yourself made. You know very well that you have no one but the woman in the mirror to blame and would do anything to get redress, short of throwing yourself and rolling around on the floor -- giving the whole store a floor show of your best impression of a two-year-old's tantrum. Yes, sometimes the customer is absolutely wrong.

The customer is wrong when they have made unreasonable demands of your business; when they insult your staff; when they refuse to honour your business processes which may, for example, ask for payment seven days after invoicing. The customer is wrong when they take your services for granted. I found this easy and very useful checklist in an online publication, Pandecta Magazine, written by Noel Peebles. He suggests a good starting point to check to see whether or not you need to dispense with your customer's 'services'. He said: "Start by going through your existing customer database and ask yourself three questions: "Is this a profitable customer?" Yes or No; "Is this customer strategically important?" Yes or No; "Is this a high-volume customer?" Yes or No. A customer with three Yes's is clearly "the best". However, a No to question #1 followed by one or two Yes's is 'bad'.

Step 2 -- Saying Goodbye: "It's not you -- it's me." I have always found that taking the blame in a reasonable way is a good place to start when saying goodbye. Always, always admit to not being as good a lover as the person to whom you are saying goodbye deserves. Darn it -- they should get better servicing than you are currently offering. You don't deserve them, they are gold to your tainted tin. When you assess the situation and look at the end of the equation, most times it is best to take the fall. The business world is a small one, word gets around quickly. This is a double-edged sword as news about a bad customer gets around as quickly as it does about bad service providers. Yes, nowadays there are more dogs than bones, but no matter how much money you pay for goods or services received, if you are a bad customer, no one will hold your business for long and others will know of it sooner than later. Some 'newbie' who never heard about you might eagerly add you to their client list, but for how long?

The best way to cut ties with a client is via a face-to-face meeting -- if tension is at a minimum. When you meet in person it is easier to engage in a practical back and forth. If you cannot attend this 'break-up meeting' send a trust-worthy representative of your company who can handle this task sensitively. If you are not able to either attend the meeting yourself or send a representative, you can speak to the erstwhile client over the phone. Unless it is a legal requirement by your firm, it is my considered opinion that ending a business relationship by e-mail or by letter is always a no-no. I don't believe in ever burning any bridges behind me: especially in writing. The written word has a way of coming back to haunt you in a more piercing way than words that are spoken. Plus, I have seen too many people scrambling to find fire extinguishers and new planks to rebuild the broken down bridges of their past -- whether because of ignorance or arrogance. It is as painful to watch as that tone-deaf crooner with 'two left foot' who sees himself as the next 'Rising Star' or 'American Idol'.

Sometimes too it is in the client's best interest to move on to a better service provider if you are in fact unable to satisfy their requirements at your stated price. There are as many bad customers for whom pink slips must be written as there are horrible service providers, the rub is in how you communicate to amicably part ways.


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