When is it Time to Fire Your Customers?

I’m a huge advocate in the idea that providing excellent customer services doesn’t mean that you unconditionally tolerate customer behavior ranging from abusive to, in some cases, laziness.  I certainly believe a line exists that customers can cross where it’s no longer mutually beneficial to continue your partnership with them, but identifying where that line is can be a hazard in and of itself.  Below, I’ve outlined a few times when I’ve felt compelled to “fire” customers:

1. Their use case represents a hazard to themselves, their users, or the reputation of our product.

Working on a customer’s site a few years ago, we noticed they were using Ninja Forms to store (not process) the users name, credit card information, and address.  We warned this user that this was incredibly dangerous (they were storing these in plain text), not PCI compliant and likely in violation of their merchant agreement, and they replied that they would look into an alternative solution.

A month later, this same user returned with another issue and we found they had added the users birthday, mothers maiden name, SSN and more to the still present credit card fields.  Their excuse was that this site was for managing instrument rentals online and they needed this data to submit to the credit bureau if instruments were not returned.  Since we had already warned the user about the dangers of what they were doing and continuing support for them would mean that we were complicit in their actions, we immediately revoked their product licenses.  After all, we could no longer continue to support their use case, and support and updates are what they were paying us for.

The user was outraged, they stated that we had no right to tell them what they could and couldn’t use our product for after they had made the purchase.  I politely pointed them to our terms and conditions (which state we can revoke a license for any reason), pointed out to them again how dangerous their use case was for them, their clients, and their users, and that we had already warned them that this wasn’t a use case we would support.

To protect ourselves (imagine the potential headline if the users site is breached and Ninja Forms was used to hold all of this sensitive data), this customer’s client, and their client’s users, we did the only thing that we could.

2. They refuse to help themselves no matter what resources are provided

These are the users who open a ticket with credentials to their site, describe your use case, and demand that you set it up for them.

To be honest, we indulge these users a fair amount.  Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt the first few times.  If the use case is simple enough, we’ll often make the changes for them (usually accompanied with screenshots or a short video of how to make those changes) and provide the user with a link to the documentation for the feature.

In once instance about a year ago, a user was having an issue with one of our addons.  We answered 20 tickets from this user in the span of one month.  One of those tickets was a minor bug, but the other 19 questions from the user were all clearly answered in our documentation which was linked in every single response to the user.

On ticket 21, we informed the user that we were happy for their business, but that the cost of supporting them at this point significantly exceeded the price they paid for the addon and that continued support requests for questions already answered in the documentation would ultimately result in us needing to terminate our support agreement and provide a refund.

3. Insulting our product or support team

As in the screenshot at the top of this article, I don’t take berating my support team lightly.  If a user is frustrated, that’s one thing.  If they take out their frustration on my team by calling us “total idiots” or any other similarly colorful phrase, depending on how egregious the violation they might get one warning, or their next reply from our team might be their last.

We’ve had a handful of users over the years who have crossed this line.  In one circumstance it was so bad that they took to Twitter to personally call out, every few hours for a several days, how terrible our product and support were.  I think they assumed that this would get them better service, but we feel that if you hate our product that much that you deserve a refund so you can find something that better meets your needs.

Interestingly, through a customer service workers community that I’m a part of (shout out to the Support Driven community!) I learned that this individual in particular was known by four other companies and did the same thing to them.  Firing that customer honestly felt good.  He continued to berate us on social media for some time for revoking his licenses and providing the refund, but since he was already doing this anyway there was no downside for us there.

4. Threatening with bad reviews, BBB complaints, or lawsuits

This is a one way ticket to license revocation.  The instant someone mentions starting legal proceedings against us, we immediately end our partnership with them, including their support agreement and revoking their licenses.  Since this inevitable further angers the user who has threatened us, the next reply they get will be from our companies lawyer, who has access to our support system as well.  In every case so far, this has ended the dispute rather quickly.

There’s no need to be afraid to do this, either.  In fact, this is industry standard practice for customer service at most organizations.  When I worked in call centers, every time a user threatened any kind of legal action against our company the only reply I was permitted to give was “Please hold for our legal department” when I would pass the call straight to them.

Threatening lawsuits is no joke and should not be treated lightly.  There are only two reasons to do this: Users think the threat will get them better service (I have a hard stance against rewarding threatening behavior with a faster response) or they are serious.  In either situation, this is not a customer you want to continue partnering with.

Similarly, when users threaten with bad reviews we politely let them know that we are looking into their request but that threats against us or our support team aren’t going to expedite the process for them, and that (if anything) they likely disincline us to help them.  Most of the time, these users will apologize to our team for lashing out from their frustration.  Sometimes, though, they double down on their threats.  In our experience these users are likely to leave a bad review anyway and even if they do have very small circles of influence (threatening others to get your way doesn’t lend itself to large circles of influence, after all) and they usually end up fired.

Those are my metrics for knowing when it’s time to fire a user. Let me know in the comments (or on Facebook and Twitter) what yours are!  Tomorrow I’ll post about the “how” of firing users to try and ensure minimal backlash especially from those deeply vested in your product.

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