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What to Do About Bad Customers (And How to Stop Attracting Them)

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Bad customers are bad for business. Here’s how to deal with them.

I’ll never forget the very first day of my very first job.

I was in middle school and had convinced the owner of a local dry cleaning business to hire me for the summer.

That morning, I spent nearly five minutes—longer than I’d ever spent before—meticulously gelling my hair.

I had never touched the stuff before, but the guy on the label looked so professional that I knew I’d need to use it if I wanted to be taken seriously.

(I ended up looking absolutely ridiculous, though that’s a story for another time.)

I walked into work, groomed, confident and ready to take on the business world.

My boss showed me how to use the register and log drop-offs in the system, and within an hour, I was up and running, helping customer after customer drop off their dirty laundry and pick up their clean and freshly pressed clothes.

By the end of that first shift, I had been broken.

Yelled at for “completely ruining” a shirt that I hadn’t seen until that very moment, blamed for not being able to promise a one-day turnaround, berated for being too slow to count change.

As a kid, I was horrified… was I really doing that bad of a job?

“That,” my boss told me as I helped him clean up after closing, “is something that you’re going to have to get used to. Most customers are great. A few are jerks. You can’t let it ruin your day.”

Some Customers Are Jerks. Jerks Are Bad for Business.

I really can’t overstate this: the overwhelming majority of customers are an absolute pleasure to deal with. They are the lifeblood of our businesses, and the reason that we’re afforded the opportunity to do what we do every single day.

Keeping those customers happy is a joy, and it’s what helps your business grow.

But every business has those few—very, very few, if you’re lucky—customers who simply make your job unpleasant.

They might be:

  • Rude and abusive to you or your staff.
  • Prone to making unreasonable demands (e.g., refunds long after the sale, free services far beyond the scope of your business, steep discounts for no good reason).
  • Quick to threaten to complain about you on social media, review sites and to their friends.

These customers are toxic to your business.

Even worse, they steal your time and attention from the 99% of customers who actually benefit your business in return for the value you deliver.

And that is an unforgivable sin.

Customers Behaving Badly Aren’t Necessarily Bad Customers

There’s an important thing to understand about people’s behavior: we all have bad days.

On those bad days, some of us might tend to take our frustrations out on other people, whether we mean to or not.

I’ve certainly been guilty of it, and I’d be willing to bet that you have, too.

So before we go further and take action on bad customers, let’s make an important distinction:

A customer who behaves badly once (within reason) is simply a customer behaving badly. If it never happens again, then there’s no issue. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and employ your best customer service techniques to help them get back to normal.

A customer for whom bad behavior is a repeating trend is a bad customer. They get no such benefit.

How to Fire a Bad Customer in 4 Easy Steps

If you cringe every time you see a customer’s name in your inbox, it’s time to fire them.

By letting bad customers keep doing business with you, you’re robbing your good customers of the time and attention that they deserve, and you’re robbing yourself of the joy of working with people you like and who appreciate you.

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If we follow these four steps, you end up with a gracious, grateful email that’s clear, friendly and cuts ties respectfully:

How to Keep Bad Customers Away

Firing customers, as important as it is, isn’t a pleasant thing to do.

And if it’s something that you find yourself doing over and over again, you might have another problem: you’re attracting too many bad customers.

Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can cut down on the number of bad customers coming through your front door:

1) Raise Your Prices

In the early days of Groove, we changed our pricing a number of times as we figured out what would work best.

One interesting thing that we found: the higher the price, the fewer “bad apples” we had to support.

Rick Perrault, the CEO of Unbounce, found much of the same when the company raised its prices:

Our support costs went down because our new customers didn’t need as much help, and the feedback we got was so much better.

When our pricing actually began to line up with the customer profile we wanted, we’d get feedback that would help us build a better product that people would actually pay for, since it was coming from the people actually paying for Unbounce. With the old $10 plan, we’d get people screaming for features that wouldn’t even up even paying for the product.

The more your customers invest in their relationship with you, the more it becomes in their best interest to treat you with respect and keep your relationship a happy one.

2) Make Sure That Your Marketing Is Accurate

Sometimes, “bad” customers are simply frustrated and confused ones, lashing out at you.

I’ve seen this happen often with businesses whose marketing message doesn’t match up with the product that they deliver.

In this case, it’s the business’ fault, but it can be helped.

It’s your responsibility to ensure that it’s crystal clear exactly who should be doing business with you, exactly what product or pricing level they should choose, and exactly what they should expect once they become a customer.

Failure to do so will lead to a lot of customers that you think might be “bad,” but are truly just angry and frustrated…and rightly so.

When we found ourselves getting hundreds of emails asking about which features Groove offers, we took the time to create a thorough and easy to understand Features page on our site that lists (and shows screenshots of) all of Groove’s primary features.

The difference this made in the number of angry emails we got from customers expecting something different was massive.

3) Talk To Your Customers Early On

Every new customer at Groove gets an email from Alex asking them why they signed up:

This doesn’t just help us refine our marketing, improve our product or build better relationships with our customers (although it does all three of those).

It also helps us identify customers, early on, who might not be a great fit for Groove.

If a customer signs up expecting something that we already know that we can’t deliver, they’re sure to become a lost customer at best, and an angry customer at worst.

This helps us pull the plug on the relationship early on for those few customers that we’re clearly not going to be a great fit for. And most of the time, those customers appreciate the heads up.

Keeping Your Business Free of Bad Customers

Whether you stop them at the gate or cut ties with them once the situation becomes unbearable, removing bad customers from your business is one of the most valuable things you can do, both for your good customers and for yourself.

Have you had to deal with bad customers? How did it affect your business?

I’d love to hear your story in the comments.

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About the Author

Len Markidan heads up marketing at Groove. He’s focused on helping startups and small businesses build better relationships with their customers.

Read his latest posts or follow him on Twitter

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