Bye Bye, Burden: Letting Go of Customers That Bring Down Business

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
Firing customers no longer means full emancipation. Instead, companies must look to such cases as opportunities to strengthen relationships, support the customer journey, and secure employee loyalty.

Romantic relationships fall to pieces every day, but when the good times get rough, most don't head for the hills at the first sign of struggle. Relationships require hard work, care, and understanding in both love and business, and in today's competitive climate, nurturing not only comes from necessity, but also the desire to satisfy and strengthen the bonds that already exist. However, when it comes to the consumer-company connection, sometimes the relationship isn't made to last the long haul.

All along, companies have been known to identify certain customers who drain their institution, whether financially or emotionally, and weigh the benefits of retaining these individuals or letting them go. But, with so many available products, services, and channels, companies aren't quite so quick to say goodbye anymore. Instead, they're finding more suitable alternative options.

In 2007, Sprint infamously fired nearly 1,000 customers that were no longer the right fit for the company. These customers called customer service frequently, costing the company more money than this group generated overall. Shep Hyken, customer service expert and New York Times bestselling author, notes that yet, while this action may have inevitably been right for Sprint at the time, today's companies are eager to uncover the problems behind these repeat callers and discover the right solution for each individual. Companies seek to understand what issues consumers keep encountering so they can adjust their approach and improve the customer experience for all.

With the proliferation of social media, brands are also driven by the desire to limit negative sentiment, which often accompanies the offloading process. Ingrid Lindberg, chief customer experience officer at Prime Therapeutics, highlights that, years ago, customers could be fired without much backlash, for most typically shared their story at the dining room table or at parties. But, with social, the vast number of users have the chance to see someone's complaint before the company does, potentially doing more harm to the brand's reputation than the bottom line.

Yet, while many have seen such customers as a burden in the past, both Lindberg and Hyken agree that there is no such thing. Instead, each customer, no matter the situation, offers the opportunity to improve the customer experience and enhance relationships. These customers enable companies to learn and grow alongside each other, even if this means growing apart.

Strengthen relationships by addressing the issues.

Severing ties with customers must be the last option on any company's list. Typically, those who drain the company do so financially, so brands must look to the primary causes if they hope to rectify the situation instead of prolonging the inevitable. Before firing a customer, the business must first understand who the person is and what they ultimately bring to the company. Often times, the obstacles reside with their current experience, resulting in frequent calls seeking assistance. These consumers may be loyal influencers, but the product or service does not meet their needs, leading to much discontent. Call center representatives and employees across channels must tune into these issues and take the initiative to suggest alternatives that may better apply to that customer's given circumstances.

For instance, Lindberg highlights that credit card companies, such as American Express, offer different cards for different people. This allows each customer to embark upon the experience that they desire, thereby satisfying every client to the best of the brand's ability. Comprehending customer sentiment opens businesses up to an entire world of data that not only supports the individual, but customer strategy as a whole. However, as Hyken notes, not all consumers will be content with the company despite these efforts to satisfy. But, if said customers decide to return later on, brands must be willing to take them back and give them a second chance. In many cases, by suggesting alternatives or allowing customers to take a break and explore the competition, brands help build the mutual respect necessary to retain customers and boost loyalty for life.

Support the future of the customer's journey.

Just as two roads diverged for Robert Frost, sometimes a customer's journey takes a different path, leading him or her away from the company at hand and guiding that person toward the competition. Companies don't want these potentially influential consumers to walk away with a bad taste in their mouths. As it turns out, helping customers find the right solution, no matter the provider, often support brand advocacy even when the consumer no longer interacts with the brand directly. It's the company's willingness to put the customer first, even if it means letting him or her go, which encourages such individuals to recommend the brand long after their departure.

Progressive has become well known for its readiness to assist the consumer in any way possible. The insurance provider will uncover the best insurance rates for particular individuals, even if that means customers would save more money with another company-a tactic that, while seemingly misguided, attracts loyalty in the end.

"You can't just tell me to go away," Lindberg notes. "There's much too much choice, and there's the ability to talk about how you were forced out. But, if you can help me find a better match for me-because the reason I'm probably a bad customer for you is because your products or solutions don't fit my needs-then I'm thankful to you. You saved me money. You helped me find a communication channel I like better. Find me what it is that I'm not getting from you, and then I just become even more of a raving fan, even if I'm no longer your customer. I will tell your story for years."

Secure employee loyalty through care and leadership.

In extreme instances, companies do not fire customers because of their financial viability, but because of their volatile nature. Frequently, customers will become verbally and mentally abusive that they must be let go for the sake of the employees' well being and morale. From disrespect, to offensive language, such customers have the potential to take a toll on the staff's state of mind. Surely employees will encounter angry or upset customers, and will need to present their polite personality in order to calm and care for the individual, but these same employees must know they need not accept abusive behavior.

"There's the belief that it takes one to say yes and two to say no," Hyken says. While higher authority should empower frontline employees to promote leadership when it comes to great service, it is this same authority that must confer with staff when certain customers attack their morale. "When you respect your people so much, you must be willing to let a profitable customer go."

Leaders must be sure customers aren't costing unnecessary dollars, but they must also make sure these very customers aren't causing excess grief, as well. Ultimately, employees are the ones who make or break a brand, for they are the face of the company. Frontline staff interacts with numerous consumers on a daily basis, providing the bulk of the customer service that dictates the brand's success. When leaders make it clear that they are willing to sacrifice financial gain for the sake of the staff, employees understand that the company truly respects them and their mental health, wowing them across the board and encouraging them to advocate for the brand and offer superior customer service, as they can rest assured that the company at hand is certainly one for which they want to work.