How to Show Problem Customers Out

In yesterdays’ post I discussed our “metrics” on how we know when it’s time to fire our customers.  Once that decision is made, though, what’s the best way to show users the door?  Here are a few strategy points to follow in your organization.

1. When possible, give the user a warning shot

If the user is approaching dangerous territory in their treatment of your team, let them know that you understand their frustration and even side with them…let them know if their frustration is justified (hint: it’s likely more justified than we’re willing to admit.)  Let the user know that you will always provide a respectful response to them, and that to continue your partnership together you will expect the same in return.

If you’re letting them go because they’re a massive drain on your support team, be sure to constantly send them documentation in your responses leading to their dismissal.  Instead of phrasing this as ignorance on the users part, a better solution might be to mention that your product might not be right for them or their use case if it continues to be to complex for them to continue on their own.

Feel free to offer alternative solutions to their use case if you understand it well enough, and let them know that you might not be able to continue supporting that use case as it becomes more complex.

Most times, these simple statements will snap frustrated users back to reality and remind them that they’re dealing with real people, ending the escalation there.  For users who are relying on you to do everything for them, it sends the message that they will need to take ownership of their projects or find an alternative solution in advance.  Most will, at this point, take the initiative to read your documentation and study up on their own.  This preemptive step can often prevent you from having to fire a user at all.

If can also offer an opportunity for the users to “resign” instead of you needing to fire them.  Offer a refund, even if outside of your refund policy, for ANY user you’re considering firing.  Often times, they’ll take it and save you the headache.  For some especially difficult users, I offer a limited time refund offer: “If you would like a full refund, we can extend our 14 day window to expire this Friday for you instead. Please let me know by then if you would like to use this offer.  After that date, we will no longer be able to offer a full refund.”

If you’re frustrated with the user, there’s a good chance their frustrated with you as well, so this is a good change to end the relationship fairly amicably.  Surprisingly, we’ve even received some 5 star reviews in the WordPress repo from using this tactic.

2. You’re never pot committed to difficult users.  Refunds are always okay.

To be honest, I hate this point.  Don’t get me wrong…it’s not about the money.  In fact, I actually love refunding users and at least giving them a good parting experience with us, especially when they’ve been awesome, respectful customers.

What I hate is the idea that I should reward users with unprofessional, abusive, childish behavior by refunding their purchase.  If the user demands a full refund or you’ll get a terrible review, you’ll likely get a terrible review anyway (or at best a 3 star).  Why refund them, then?

The truth, I’ve learned through experience, is that this is the best way to fully walk away with the moral high ground.  Are you obligated to give users all of their money back?  Absolutely not.  However, once you have done so, they have absolutely zero claim to you or your time.  You can officially “wash your hands” of especially problem users and not feel bad about it.  They can trash talk your product all they want (if they’re that bad, they likely would anyway) but by refunding them, you’ve given your team and yourself permission to ignore them.

Refunds, in some instances, are just a mental health play.  You have more important things in your business to worry about.  It doesn’t matter how much support for this user has already cost you.  Cut your losses, walk away, and take care of your other users.

3. Explain WHY you’re letting this user go

If you were able to give the user a warning shot, this step is MUCH easier as you likely already have the documentation to back up the actions you need to take, and the user will likely see this coming (though it will likely still frustrate them).

Be blunt but respectful.  It’s necessary in all circumstances to maintain the higher ground in these support interactions.  Was the user abusive to your team?  Did they threaten you in some way?  Let them know exactly what they did.  If you can do so professionally and without snark, quote their response that pushed you to this decision.

Even customers who are “jerks” deserve to know why you’re ending your partnership with them in a professional manner.  Occasionally, these users will continue to spam your inbound system or social media with more comments, questions, concerns, or complaints.  As mentioned above, once your partnership is ended, you have no obligation to continue that discussion and in fact I would highly discourage getting baited into them.

I fell into this trap publicly one time and ended up accidentally pointing several users towards a competitor.  It was ugly but taught me a valuable lesson.

Here is my litmus test for whether I am properly “firing” a user.  If this user takes to social media or our reviews page and posts my message to them (or a part of it), would the community back me up based on the text of the message alone?  It’s a good way to step “outside” of the situation and think about what the wider community might think about the actions you’re taking, and I think this has saved me from some pretty aggressive responses to problem users in the past.

What are your thoughts?  Have you fired users before?  How did you go about it?  What works for you, and what mistakes have you made?  Let me know in the comments, Facebook, or Twitter!

2 Replies to “How to Show Problem Customers Out”

  1. Great post, Zach! I liked your first point about giving users a warning before firing them. I think it shows them you’re not just snapping and cutting ties out of anger or annoyance. You are treating them with respect and courtesy. I also loved what you said at the end about asking yourself how the community would respond if they saw your response. I think that’s a helpful way to gauge if your response is fair and professional.

    Hope you’re doing well!

    1. Hey, Jamie! Great to hear from you! Thanks for the feedback! I’ve seen what can happen when companies replies are made public and go wrong, and I decided early on to avoid that at all costs. It’s been a pretty good guide, and it also helps me keep in context how offensive a users actions really are. Is this something only I consider frustrating, or if this entire conversation were public, would most others side with me? It’s a helpful way to step back and try to take a more objective view. 🙂

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