The Unintended Consequences of Firing Customers and Talking About It


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Recently I have seen several very good articles about the occasional need to fire a customer. As usual, I think Colin Shaw had a lot of good things to say on the topic. The central theme of the argument is that employees deserve respect and that customers should not be allowed to abuse a company’s people and services. Point taken, and I couldn’t agree more.customer is always right

The act of firing a customer can be a powerful tool to show employees that you stand behind them and value them as people and professionals.  However, firing customers, if not messaged properly, can have an even more powerful negative consequence within your business and among your employees.

“Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” John Dalberg-Acton

Some years ago I was flying from Dallas to Chicago on American Airlines. At the time, I was a customer with status on the airline. I was at the gate waiting to board the plane, which was there, but no boarding call was being made. I asked the gate agent if boarding would happen soon (I was deciding whether to go to the store a few gates away) and instead of answering my question, she told me rudely to sit down and wait for the announcement.

Later when I was in line to board, she was again quite rude to me. I asked for her name so I could report her behavior. She then said, “Are you being belligerent with me? The captain is right there…I can take you right off this flight.” Since that day, I only fly American when I must. I have been a high-status flyer on United for many years now. The power to “fire” customers can be intoxicating and used recklessly, as in this case.

If your company gives employees the power to fire customers or deny service, make sure they don’t cross the line. A few things to watch out for include:

Employees may become self-centered and lose their customer focus. Respect for employees is very important, but respect for the customer should always be at the forefront. The last thing a company needs is a customer-facing team that feels entitled.

Employees start to feel that customers with legitimate problems or anger can be fired as well. Customers who have real problems with a company’s products or services can be quite angry with the company. In general, the anger doesn’t get aimed at the company, but at its representative delivering customer care. Companies need to make sure these customers are not ignored and train their care teams on how to calm the customer down.

It’s not you, it’s me. If angry, rude customers are prevalent, maybe something is wrong with how you do business.  Sometimes companies should be grateful for angry customers. Better to give you the opportunity to repair a situation than to have them post to social media or vote with their feet and cease doing business with you. A cavalier attitude may obscure real problems the company needs to fix urgently.

There is no doubt that employees should be respected by customers, but make no mistake, the incidence of firing customers should be few and far between. In customer experience surveys, the number of customers who want to be contacted about a problem tends to be in the low- to mid-single digits, and the truly rude customers will be only a fraction of those. Employees will feel your appreciation of them when you stand up for them. Make it clear that while the mantra that the customer is always right is not absolute, it’s pretty close.

By the way, I did send a formal complaint via email to American Airlines and received a form letter in return. I fly a fair bit. I guess they didn’t need my business.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Michael Allenson
Michael is Founder of CXDriven. Formerly he was Principal CX Transformation Consultant at MaritzCX where he led a global team that consulted with clients on how to better leverage their customer experience management programs to drive business success. A frequent writer and presenter, Michael is passionate about helping companies leverage customer intelligence to take action that creates lasting customer relationships and sustainable improvements in growth and profitability. Over a 20+ year career, he has consulted with numerous Fortune 500 companies and their leadership teams on how to uncover superior insights and turn them into action. Prior to his role at MaritzCX, Michael was a Senior Consultant for Maritz Research, Technomic, Diamond Management and Technology Consultants and Leo J. Shapiro and Associates.


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