When Is It Time To Fire Your Customers?

If you are Sprint Nextel, when they become customer service nightmares. While watching the local newscast last night, a story caught my attention about cellular phone provider Sprint “firing” customers for abusing customer service. I followed up with it online and found Fox News covering the story. Apparently they are disconnecting more than 1,000 subscribers for calling their customer service lines too often and making what the company called “unreasonable requests.”

Sprint began the process of sending service termination letters on June 25. They said the cancellations involved 1,000 to 1,200 customers who had called the company about 40,000 times a month in total. “These customers were calling to a degree that we felt was excessive,” said Sprint spokeswoman Roni Singleton, adding the company needed to cull its customer base to improve services. “In some cases they were calling customer care hundreds of times a month for a period of six to 12 months on the same issues even after we felt those issues had been resolved,” she said.

That’s a novel idea – when your customers become a maintenance nightmare, simply fire them! How often I have wanted to do the same with a handful of customers that have been less than pleasurable to deal with. However, that is easier said than done when you are a small to medium sized business and you rely on that income. Many times I have had to bite the bullet and endure nuisance customers simply due to the fact that we don’t have 53 million of them like Sprint does. I’m not saying it has never happened. We have fired a few in our time, some who were completely unreasonable in their dealings and in another scenario, an agency relationship that was simply using one campaign to gain a free education so they could turn around and offer search marketing services on their own.

So when you are a small to medium sized business, how do you deal with customers who become a pain in the you know what? The first step would be to evaluate why the relationship is causing you pain and suffering. Are they making unreasonable requests? Are they taking up too much of your time? Are they just downright mean and nasty in their dealings with you? Then you have to decide if you can live without their income. This is easier to do with small clients but for the larger ones that have sizable budgets, it is not such an easy decision. Finally, what will be their response if you do fire them? Will they take you to court? Will they bad-mouth you online causing you a reputation nightmare? These are all things that need to be carefully considered before handing out a pink slip.

The best thing to do in my opinion is to try to weed out potentially problematic customers before they actually become paying customers. I recently wrote about this in a post entitled “How To Detect Problematic Customers Before They Become Paying Customers.” In that post I highlighted five things to watch out for including, they want a free education, they waste your most precious commodity – time, they have business plans doomed to fail, they want a special deal or discount, and their goals are unrealistic. Many times your intuition will kick in and tell you not to take on this client – they will make you sorry you did.

Back to the Sprint story, for the customers in which they are severing the relationship, Sprint did waive final balances on canceled accounts and gave customers 30 days to transfer their phone numbers to other wireless providers. They also do not have to pay early termination fees. So, another lesson to be learned here is that if you want out of your cellular phone service but don’t want to pay early termination fees, just call your provider every day or even better yet, several times a day. ;)

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses. Follow +David Wallace on Google + as well as Twitter.

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