Below you’ll find an unedited chapter from my upcoming book 40 Rules for Internet Business Success. To receive updates about the book and get a free digital copy of my book in its current form, enter your email address in the sidebar to the right.
After you’ve been running a business for a while, you’ll recognize that there are some customers that are simply more trouble than they’re worth. There are some customers that simply can’t be satisfied regardless of how much you bend over backwards to help them out. They make unrealistic demands for what they’re paying. They constantly ask for changes and new features to your product. They think they deserve a discount just because they asked for one. They want a refund when your service has the slightest hiccup. They waste your time with an endless stream of questions and complaints. Your customers have the right to stop paying you and quit doing business with you at any time they want and I think it’s okay for you to have the same right.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that you should see your customers as the enemy or a source of contempt. The vast majority of your customers will be happy to give you money for the value that you’re providing them. They may run into an issue every now and then and need help fixing something and you should happily take care of their issues. Having great customer service is one of the best ways to keep customers around for a long time. Zappos built a multi-million dollar e-commerce business by having a legendary customer service department. You should do everything you reasonably can for your customers to make sure they’re happy with your service. That being said, there are just some people you can’t make happy and it’s okay to decide to stop doing business with them.
Chances are, you won’t have any trouble identifying your problem customers. You already know who they are based on how many times they’ve called you or emailed you with problems they’re having. They’re more than likely on one of your lower payment tiers. They ask for things that aren’t included with your product or service. They regularly ask for discounts and refunds. They often just like to complain and don’t seem to be terribly concerned with whether or not their problem actually gets fixed.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to identify problem customers before they become your customers. When you’re talking to a prospective customer, there are several warning signs that you will allow you to identify whether or not they’re going to be more trouble than they’re worth. Potential problem customers may ask you to do a smaller significantly discounted project or even free work in exchange for a potentially bigger project down the road. If they’re not willing to pay your market rate on the first project, they’re not ever going to want to pay your market rate on any future projects either. More than likely any promise of a bigger and more lucrative project down the road won’t pan out. Potential problem customers will ask you an endless series of questions about your company’s products and services. They may try to convince you how great of a deal working with them would be, despite the fact that they’re almost a complete nobody online. They may try to get you to sign long-form NDAs or other agreements before signing up for your product or service.
The best way to deal with potential problem customers is to not bend over backwards for them. You should certainly provide a reasonable effort to answer their questions as you would any potential customer, but you shouldn’t spend several hours trying to answer their questions, sign any legal papers they put in-front of you or give them a significant discount just because they asked for one (unless they’re bringing you a massive amount of business). As soon as the potential problem customer figures out that they can’t push you around, they’ll more than likely wander off and waste someone else’s time. If they don’t leave on their own, it’s okay to send them a polite message sand say “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’re going to be a good fit for you or be able to meed your needs. You might want to checkout X, Y or Z company that may be able to offer what you’re looking for.”
Sometimes you won’t be able to identify a problem customer until they’ve already paid you. With the first few issues that they have, you should give the customer the benefit of the doubt, but after awhile it’s hard to ignore when you have a problem customers. It’s okay to simply say no to their unreasonable demands. You can simply say that what they’re asking isn’t part of the product or service that you offer. If they continue to complain, you can apologize something along the lines of “I’m sorry we’re not going to be able to accommodate your request. If you would like, I can cancel your order and refund your payment.” More often than not, they’ll take the offer of the refund and go on their way. You’ll spend much more time and money than they paid you to try to keep them happy, so you’re better off to give them their money back and send them on their way.