In my business, there is a line. On one side is a long history of happy customers, and on the other side is a short list of people who will never be customers again. This is the banned customer list.

The idea of firing a customer goes against a lot of conventional wisdom. Particularly the idea that, "the customer is always right." Always is a big word, arguably too big of a word when dealing with the public. A more accurate phrase would be, "the customer is always right until they're dead wrong...and disrespectful."

Today there is room for the customer to be wrong, and for there to be consequences. Even if a customer is factually correct, once they cross the line and disrespect my customer service staff they become de facto wrong in my book.

So how does a (former) customer or prospective customer cross the line? It boils down to honesty and respect.

There are many potential customers in the world, and 99.999 percent of them aren't problematic. Even when they have an issue like a defective item, return or exchange. These are the customers that we as business owners want, need and pay our employees to interact with. We do not pay our employees to be abused, lied to or flagrantly disrespected by the remaining .001 percent.

Raise your hand if any of these ring a bell:

  • People who try to threaten or blackmail your company into getting their way: "I have 75K Facebook followers and...."
  • Bold-faced liars: "No, I didn't damage the product at all, it must have come this way...six months ago, and I just noticed..."
  • People who simply explode on your customer service team and refuse to seek a constructive solution, despite your team's best efforts: "NO I don't want to hear your return policy, put me in touch with your manager right away so I can process my return!"

Hands raised yet?

I get it. I shop all the time, both online and in brick and mortar stores. I've been frustrated with companies before, whether it's the product or a certain policy they enforce. But, I always understand that the person I'm speaking with is just doing their job to the best of their ability. For that reason, I'm always as kind and considerate as I can be, regardless if my issue was resolved or not.

Problem customers clearly indicate through their actions that they don't want to do business with you, regardless of what they say. Their problems tend to happen over and over, because the real core problem is them, and they'll never see it. This tiny group not only ruins your employees' days, they distract your team from giving everyone else the exceptional level of service that your customers deserve.

So, I simply choose not to do business with the .001 percent of customers who are unreasonable or abusive, and I empower my employees to do the same. We have a "do not sell" list, and if a former or potential customer is added to that list we not only tell them, but we also tell them why they are banned. No soup for you. We don't feed the trolls.

Every business needs to draw a line. You need to look beyond a single conversion and recognize the resources it takes to deal with these problem customers. Plus, this will show your customer team you stand behind them and empower them to do the best job they can.

It's not black and white; judgment calls need to be made. This requires having a strong sense of what you stand for and what behaviors run counter to your company's character. Employees and vendors occasionally get fired for failing to live up to their contracts. If you want to do business with my company we have a contract, too: treat my employees as you would want to be treated, and we'll do the same.

There have been times where I've been fired by vendors. In retrospect, I probably deserved it. I respect them for sticking to their guns, and it somewhat ironically makes me want to do more business with them.

Businesses need to stand for something more than money, and employee wellbeing is an important - and ultimately profitable - thing to stand for.

Have you ever fired a customer? Tell me more about how you deal with "problem customers" in the comment section below.

Published on: May 2, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.