Blog, Customer Service

Firing Customers

Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software had an interesting post on his blog titled “Seven Steps to Remarkable Customer Service“. The seven steps aren’t anything new or enlightening but they do serve as a reminder to organizations (and people) that customer service is about more than just answering the phone (or waiting on someone in a store).

Joel’s “7 Steps” are a good read, although I disagree with a few comments he makes, especially the comment regarding ‘firing customers’ (Joel is against it). I do see where he’s coming from but I believe there are those customers who cost more to support than they provide in revenue. Any client that will bring you unprofitable business is worth firing.

I spent five years working in (and eventually managing) a technical services team responsible for technical support for the enterprise software that our company developed and sold. We had one of the best customer service teams in the world in that industry and were constantly reminded of that by our customers. Although we had fairly decent software (there were plenty of bugs) and great customer service, there were clients who were rarely satisfied at the corporate level.One particular client had hundreds of engineers using our software. These engineers were quite satisfied with our service and software and, when asked, give glowing testimonials about our support and services. However, when it came time to pay invoices or renew a contract, this client’s corporate office would make our lives very difficult and demand lower costs and refunds for ‘poor service’.

This client finally insisted on going to a yearly contract, which I’m sure they saw as a way to control us. When it came time to renew the contract ever year, this client would start pushing for lower costs and more services (in my mind these mutually exclusive), which our senior leadership team would agree to.

The final straw for me came during the final contract renewal. We were asked to provide training for free (even though we had real costs involved in delivering the training). Of course, the senior leadership team agreed to this because they needed the revenue, but if it had been my decision, I would have said “no” to this customer many times.

This is the type of client that’s worth ‘firing’…the one that can only bring you unprofitable business. Perhaps this isn’t really considered ‘firing your customer’ but more like ‘choose your clients more carefully’.

[tags] Customer Service, Firing Customers, Joel on Software [/tags]

About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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Erik Mazzone
17 years ago

I could not agree with you more. There are definitely some clients that are not worth taking on. And if one of those slips through the cracks, they should be fired. Or, “invited to succeed elsewhere” as the HR folks might say. :)

It seems to me like it is all about balancing the short-term need for revenue with the long-term need for reputation. Without balancing both, the organization is headed for a fall — quickly or slowly.