Authors: Derrick Wlodarz
Building an expanding customer base is one of the utmost concerns for any growing or budding computer repair business. My Technibble articles consistently focus on the various ways to harness new business and keep it for the long term. But an unwieldy topic that comes up in every businesses’ lifespan is the quandary of not only knowing how to let go of a bad customer, but just as importantly deciding when exactly is the right time to come to such a conclusion.
Consider this an unofficial extension to the discussion I started in my previous article that targeted the how-to of firing bad customers. This topic is very fresh on my mind because my company FireLogic recently ran across a situation that required me to make the tough decision to cut ties with what was originally an exciting new customer. While I won’t get into specifics, the reasons to drop this relatively new client were getting more and more evident with each day that passed.
From a lack of client-technician trust, to unwarranted and baseless finger pointing, and temper issues that would make Donald Trump look like a saint, I had to put my foot down and call it quits. It’s very hard to say no to potential business with a straight face, but knowing when the time is right to hasten such a decision will save you a lot of aggravation and time on a growing dead-end relationship.
Going off my own experiences with the above, and similar sub-par customers, here are my top pieces of advice when it comes to dropping bad business before it bites your company’s bottom line.
A client’s trust in your services is as important as their ability to pay
If you’re building a business along the lines that you’ll take on ANY customer as long as they can pay, you’re truly setting yourself up for major bumps in the long term. In the example I used above, one of the biggest reasons I cut ties with this unnamed customer is because of the degrading lack of trust that existed on their behalf. Let me clarify – there was almost no trust in my company from the day we stepped in for the first consultation. This customer cited issues with past technicians as the basis for their lack of trust, but I truly think it was the other way around: no techs could service this customer because they were unmanageable in every regard. This should have been my first clear sign of trouble.
Back to the point, however, is that you should approach each new customer with an eye to see how it is that they view your company as soon as you walk through the door. What kind of language is the customer using in discussions about what they are looking for, and what they expect of your company? Is your expertise and professionalism being questioned right out of the gate? Is the customer acting as the true expert, merely utilizing your services for the sake of manpower rather than professional insight? These are all warning signs to a relationship that could end up in disaster, as I very well experienced just a short time ago. A good rapport going two ways is essential to a solid long term relationship between your computer repair business and your customers.
Don’t get caught in an endless blame game, because you can’t win
Another reason why I decided to cut ties with the aforementioned troublesome customer is because my company was being blamed for numerous IT-related issues that we had no hand in. Our services were called in to help resolve a bevy of problems that were festering until our arrival. Even after our best efforts, we still had the lower hand in a vicious blame game that was being led on by an unnamed third party provider which had a longer business relationship with the client than we ever could have had. I rightfully defended my company’s stance on the issues and our decisions on how to resolve them, but a lack of trust further tarnished our ability to stand on a professional footing through this nightmare.
This rule goes pretty simply: if you’re stuck in a blame game war, either you vs customer or in a multi-party scenario, consider it your beacon that an exit path is needed soon. The customer always considers themselves right and will continue to view you in a poor light no matter what truths you may bestow your stance in. It’s a perpetual game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and you guessed it – your company is the eternal donkey here.
Profits shouldn’t blind your decisions on who to work with
Just a few weeks back I argued why trimming services that don’t make money is a good idea. One of my main points in the article was that you shouldn’t let short term profits get in the way of good decision making. There definitely is such a thing as great short term money making that leads to horrible long term repeat business. This same model stands true for customers that should ultimately be dropped for a combination of reasons – some of which may look like what I described above.
I sadly looked past my gut feeling in dealing with the above customer because of the short-sighted promise of multiple near term projects and ultimately a fervent promise of long term business. That should have been one of my first clues to trouble ahead: when a customer uses the basis of their potential future usage of your services as to why discounts and/or promised service should be given in the shorter term. These should red flags for any serious discussion with a new customer, especially business clients that are looking to bring your company in for outsourced IT support needs. Getting entrenched too far with such customers places your company in a bad position and makes it ever-so-harder to cut ties down the road.
Just as much as a customer has the right to choose your company over another, you can freely decide on who YOU want to work for too. Don’t be afraid to practice this two-way right.
Hoping that “next visit” will be better is wishful thinking
I was under the misguided impression that once “all this” blew over with the aforementioned customer, we could get off to a better footing and move forward. Time and time again, I was wrong, and felt the relationship spiraling downward on each subsequent visit. In fact, I dreaded waking up on the days that we were scheduled to be onsite at this client’s location – it literally brought out the worst emotion inside. Even our best efforts couldn’t clear the veil of doubt cast upon my company, and my wishing that the situation would improve didn’t end up happening. Instead, we blew through countless hours of free support that couldn’t be billed out and we had no clear path for moving forward positively on discussed projects.
Your gut feeling shouldn’t be dismissed as mere emotion. If you feel like a relationship is endlessly heading south, it’s probably gone too far already and you’re just catching on. Count your losses, close off efforts to patch the relationship, and follow my advice on how to cleanly cut ties and go your own separate ways.
Computer repair is a service that requires an imprecise mixture of trust, communication, and responsibility which are critical pillars to solid long term relationships. When any one of the above factors fall out of tune, it’s a downhill spiral that only grows out of control, eventually leaving casualties on both sides of the field. Use best judgement when consulting with prospective new customers to save yourself the frustration and stress that comes with defusing irreparable relationships. Just because someone calls for service, this doesn’t mean you are obligated to oblige blindly. An ounce of prevention will go a long way.
What kind of experiences do you have with customers that led you to re-think a relationship? When did you know that it was time to “cut the noose” with a customer? Do you have tips for dealing with out of control situations? Share them with us in the comments section – we’d love to hear about it!