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Firing Customers…Unfortunately It Happens

In an era of business where profitability and efficiency are king, and buzzwords/terms like continuous improvement, social media and going green zip around like that annoying fly at the dinner table, we often talk about “firing bad customers”, but let’s be honest…that’s much easier said than done in a recovering economy. In our company’s efforts to improve on our accounts receivable practices, many meetings have produced talk about getting rid of customers who effectively cost us more money than we make on them. In this case, cost would include the cost of product sold to them as well as the overall cost of doing business with them (time and energy spent, shipping costs, safety issues involved etc.). Thankfully it hardly ever happens.

The old cliché “people do business with people they like” usually can be interpreted as “people usually buy things from people that they appreciate and respect.” But what about the other way around? Do we, the distributor, usually sell only to those who we appreciate and respect? I think we’d be lying if we said yes. The truth is most of us probably “appreciate” every penny of business we get, but don’t have the luxury of knowing a lot of our customers well enough to form a balanced opinion of them. Sure we all have customers that we genuinely like doing business with, but what about those customers that…well just aren’t a “good customer”? (And we all have them, don’t lie!) Maybe they are very difficult to work with for some reason, or maybe your companies’ values and business ethics just don’t line up.

Last week one of our customer service reps received a call from a customer of ours who claimed that we had sold him an empty tank. After looking into it, we found it odd that this customer had done this on 3 other occasions and seemed to be the only customer experiencing a problem with that particular product, one that happens to have strict quality manufacturing standards associated with it. In addition to the shaky claim, the language and utter disrespect this customer showed a number of our employees involved in the situation was absolutely unacceptable. I think only R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket could have been proud of that kind of dialogue.

Therefore, due to our suspicions of the customer’s dishonesty and our lack of tolerance for such ridiculous disrespect of IOC employees, we kindly told this fine gentleman that we would not be his gas supplier in the future. We’ve not heard back from him since that last phone conversation and, to be honest, I hope we don’t. We take a great deal of pride in making our customers happy and offering a level of customer service that we can genuinely be proud of, but contrary to the old cliché “the customer is always right”, it’s not true. Don’t get me wrong, every now and then a customer may just not be very nice. That’s not a crime and certainly not a reason to just refuse their business. We’ve got to have thicker skin than that. The level of dishonesty shown in this instance, though, led us to believe that continuing the business relationship with this customer could lead to bigger problems down the road.

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