Is it time to fire a client?

For a long time, I have advised clients and seminar attendees to “hire slowly and fire quickly”, with the meaning being when you make a hiring mistake, even after due diligence, correct the mistake and move on. While I quickly relinquish any claims to originating this idea, I have found it to be good advice. An employee who doesn’t fit a positive corporate culture can drastically and negatively impact a company, especially a small one.

The question for this article is this..Is there a good time to fire a client? Can a bad apple in our client base destroy the culture of a small company? In my opinion, the answer is “yes”.

Usually, a simple run-through of your existing customer/client base will help you decide. Do you have one (or more) clients that seem to consistently cause you problems…unwarranted complaints, uncommon requests or demands, constant threats to leave, rudeness to your staff? Sometimes, the combination of stress and time makes them more costly to keep than to keep them on board. If the value of the customer is worth the effort to maintain them, then you don’t don’t need to read any further.

However, should you find the value of your client to be less than the effort to service them, here are some suggestions for dealing with it:

1) Compassionately advise your customer that their behavior is causing you and your team problems that you are having difficulty dealing with and that a change needs to be made.

2) When asked, specifically describe what is causing the problem. I put emphasis on the word “specific”. Don’t use vague terms such as “difficult”, “rude”, etc. Be specific with the behavior that is causing the problem.

3) If they counter with “Well, if you change this then I will change that”, be prepared to make the decision. DO NOT counter your corporate culture to save a customer.

4) If you decide that it is not worth maintaining the relationship, kindly recommend them to your competition.

Remember, it is not unkind to fire either an employee or customer as long as it is done with dignity and respect. Sometimes, the relationship is just not worth it.

One final note. I have never had a client or colleague who has followed this advice and regretted it. The most common comment I receive is “I wish I had done this sooner”.