Customers / Support

The Client of No Return

We’ve all had them. THOSE clients. You know the ones that call you five times a day, at home or on lunch, in the middle of the night. They’re like vampires, sucking the life out of you and your team. They don’t care that you’re unable to address their concerns from the last twenty calls because you’re busy on the phone with them again.

When you go to the doctor and get a blood test, those tests will almost always give you a “normal range.” If you fall far enough outside of that normal range, either above or below, you probably have something interesting happening with your blood.

When you’ve got a team that is highly functional, it’s pretty easy to spot the “Client of No Return” because you have empirical data measuring the cost of managing a client, and you can measure this against the normal values. Any client that lands more than two standard deviations from the norm in terms of time spent and number of issues is probably costing you money to support.

The calculus must then focus on whether or not its worth it to pay to keep a client.

Often, it’s not worth it, and you cut them loose. There’s nothing more terrifying than firing a client. You’ve spent years building your client base, rounding up those folks that are in need of your product or services, and you’ve trained yourself and your team to treat them like royalty, where their satisfaction is the goal of every engagement. You’ve invested in these tactics because you recognize that a happy client generates more clients. You realize you NEED clients, and firing one just seems so counterintuitive.

There are those that believe firing a client is a symptom of problems within the organization, that it can only ever be necessary if there has been some fundamental failure of customer service, management or fulfillment.

I’m not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that a well designed customer experience ensures you only have clients that fit your business model, that every customer engagement is an opportunity to grow your revenue and that you have no revenue if you have no clients. This is business 101.

What is often misunderstood is that customers sometimes change culturally, financially or spiritually, and so does your business. If you’re perfect, you will identify the changing clients and adjust your tactics and strategies to ensure they remain manageable. If your perfect, you’ll manage internal changes such that your organization remains manageable, and you don’t alienate your clients.

But you are not perfect. And neither are your clients. And sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and figure out how to exit an abusive relationship. Sometimes, there’s no amount of roses and candy that will make the screaming and tantrums acceptable, or prevent them in the first place.

I mentioned earlier that the “Client of No Return” is easy to identify when you’ve got a highly functional team. Easy to identify, but never easy to execute on a solution. It’s almost impossible if you are unable to assign some value to the cost of doing business with your clients. And absolutely impossible if you have no system of accountability for your team’s actions, or the agreements you have with your clients.

If you are in the position where you decide to fire a client, you should take stock of how you got there, and ensure that path has many road signs warning of danger and “there be dragons.” Regardless of the cause, or the outcome, you should consider it an indicator of some very necessary corrections. Whether it’s an internal failure, or a sea change in your clients behavior, the only thing you have true control over is your own organization and how it addresses issues like these. Even if the analysis identifies no change needed, the act of analysis is a healthy response to a painful process, and it could reveal a systemic problem that could save you from the horrible “Client of No Return.”

3 thoughts on “The Client of No Return

  1. Love the title.
    I wonder if some of these clients are getting enough return or, if they even have a business model.
    I am the person in the organization responsible for getting vendors to do a much, much better job. Yes, sometimes I worry about wrecking their profits. I do not need to apply agression, nor belittlement, nor any other negative motivation. All I need do is show how a job is the right one to do. So one must watch out for getting taken for a ride by the nice dragons too.
    Editorial comment: if you use you’re, you will miss your by mistake. If you are careful, your mistakes will not often escape.

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    • Nice dragons still eat people.

      Thanks for the editorial comment. I went through and changed the only “you’re” I found… and of course then realized that I said “your” about a bazillion times. Hopefully my writing will improve with practice.

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  2. I fired a client recently. They were that vampire. Deployed a great solution for them utilizing a terminal server. When it came down to it they didn’t want to be bothered to learn anything new. I even drove 1.5 hours (one way) to their site for a staff training with the eight staff. Guess how many showed? One; just the owner. ‘Bit my tongue’ and did as much training as the owner could remember. Two days later, “My staff is still having trouble with trying to remember how all this works. . .” sort of call. That was it. I told them they have 30 days to find a new IT provider. Oh, and they were bad mouthing me behind my back that the solution “sucked” as it was too complex. Well, after firing the company the owner wanted to take my out to lunch. Odd? So, I shrugged and went. Owner apologized profusely now fully realizing (only as I had fired them) what position they had put me in. I asked the owner what they would do in my shoes. Stammering around, the owner had nothing more to really add different to what I did. So, they begged to come back and I basically put out a new support contract which only supports the functionality of the systems. No support for using the system; that rested with them to understand how to leverage the apps to do what they wanted. Still a client to this day running very smoothly and I even got another good client from the, once upon a time, fired client. So, you are sooooooo right to put your foot down and fire a client if you have done your best and your best isn’t enough. Doesn’t matter if you are compitent or not. That business is not a good client for your business model; simple.

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