How to Break Up With a Rude Customer
As difficult as this might be for a business owner to hear, not every client/customer will love you. In fact, some might even go out of their way to make life difficult for you. Luckily for me, out of 300,000 users, I can count on one hand the number I've had to fire or ban from using our product during the past three and a half years. In one recent case, I had to block the former user from our social media accounts because he was so rude to my team.
Here's what I've learned from the experience.
1. Recognize early when it's not a good match and let go.
My company makes software that helps users build contests, promotions, and other lead-generating campaigns. The software is fairly straightforward to use at its most basic, but it's not easy. And sometimes we attract users who just aren't a good fit. Relatively skilled users (those who know some web design and have Photoshop knowledge) can build very complicated campaigns. But we've had a handful of users over the years who aren't as skilled, yet still want to be able to build very complex campaigns. These are the people who tend to be difficult to work with and often end up being very expensive in terms of how much customer support time they require. At some point it becomes a simple math problem: When they cost us a lot more than they pay us, it's time to move them on.
2. Breaking up shouldn't be hard to do.
On the occasions that we've had to ask customers to find an alternative to ShortStack, we've both recommended options to them and refunded their money. Most of the time they have been gracious and appreciated our efforts. My m.o. is generally to do whatever it takes to make them happy, or as close to happy as possible. I want them to walk away feeling like we did everything we could to make the relationship work so that they don't end up telling anyone they had a negative experience. The investment is in making the situation right, which is way more cost-effective than dealing with negativity.
You may run into a situation where a client, when presented with the options you lay out, is insulted and gets angry. I'm an entrepreneur and my company is just a few years old so I don't take clients for granted. But I also have to have enough confidence in my product to believe that we're a good fit for the majority of our target market and most of our customers are very happy.
3. Be on the lookout for a vindictive ex.
In a world where customers' criticisms can reach thousands of their "friends" in an instant, you may be worried that one disgruntled customer can wreak havoc on your brand. It is a possibility--at least temporarily. And while business owners/managers must walk a fine line between satisfying customers' expectations and protecting their team members from what can quickly become hostile encounters, your first allegiance should be to your team. In our most recent situation, the user--I'll call him Loki--whom we fired, then started leaving rude messages on social networks, criticizing entirely random things about our product and staff.
We figured out who the culprit was and blocked him. Loki then emailed us demanding to know why we had blocked him. All his behavior did was confirm that he was not a good fit for us, and made me wish we'd fired him sooner. (Then again, I have to wonder if I hadn't blocked him, perhaps he would have forgotten about us and moved on to pester some other company.)
4. Have confidence in your product and your people.
I should have been more frank with Loki much sooner into our relationship. Instead, I took the "customer is always right" path because I didn't want to ruffle his feathers, and because I truly believe that my team can solve any user's issue with our product. In fact, ShortStack has a 99 percent customer-service approval rating, so the numbers tell me that we're doing plenty of things right. The experience taught me that we need to let outliers like Loki go sooner. It's never easy to walk away from a paying customer, but sometimes for the company's bottom line and employees' mental health it's the only option.
Customers tend to be either a great fit or not. If you can tell that they aren't a fit, don't try to force a square peg into a round hole. It's okay to educate, train, support, and watch your customers grow. Just be on the lookout for those who are unable or unwilling to accept help, or have expectations that you will never be able to meet. If they want a Mercedes and you sell Fords, you may want to give them a map to the Benz dealer.