Secrets to Success

John-Paul Micek

How to fire bad customers
(without letting them know)

We've all heard the saying "the client is always right." But who really believes that every client is always right? It's a ridiculous statement when you think about it. Why not say what's really meant. You should never argue with the client and you should do everything in your power to make sure that they're satisfied. Now that's something that both business owners and clients can live with.

But what happens when you have a client who is never satisfied? A client who constantly drains your resources and has a negative impact on your business in one or more ways? If you've been in business long enough, you'll know what I mean. These clients are routinely late with their payments, are always complaining about petty issues and always arguing about their bill.

"Fire them!" I can hear some of you screaming. Now while I may enthusiastically agree with your statement, the trouble in a service business is that you can't fire clients haphazardly. Bad feelings, the spread of untrue rumors and the potential misconception being given to other clients can cause serious damage to your business.

There is a simple strategy to help you take the right steps and make the right decision about firing your client. Basically there are two approaches: a balanced long-term approach (which I'll cover in a future article,) and an immediate/short-term approach that we'll look at today:

>> Always act and communicate professionally.

>> No matter how much of a drain a client may be on your time and resources, you must realize that it's your responsibility to handle the relationship professionally and to examine whether you have contributed in any way to the attitude/status of that client.

>> Confirm that there is indeed a reason for firing your client.

To do this properly you need to set a meeting to talk with the client. Explain to your client the issues you're concerned with and why. Ask for your client's viewpoint on the same issues. Validate the client's viewpoint by answering any questions they raise, and by asking probing questions related to points that they have brought up.

After your meeting, sit down and consider whether you contributed to the client having any unreasonable expectations. Decide whether to fire this client immediately, make a final decision based on your longer-term analysis, or to explore other solutions to the issue with your newfound knowledge of the client's viewpoint.

You should never let the client know that they're being fired. Think of creative ways you can let the client go without knowing they're being fired. Firing a client, no matter how sure you are that they should go, is not pleasant for either side. When it does need to happen it should be done in the most courteous, gracious and client-centric way possible. When you get to the point where you can fire a client and have them thank you for doing it, that's when you know you have mastered the process.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

John-Paul Micek is a small-business strategist
and chief operating officer at RPM Success Group.
Reach him at
or toll-free at (888) 334-8151.

Deborah Cole Micek, chief executive officer
of RPM Success Group, is a business success coach
and life strategist. Reach her at
or (888) 334-8151.


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