Navigating professional relationships within the workplace can be difficult, especially when it comes to working with challenging clients. It may not be ideal to terminate a customer-company relationship, however, it might be necessary because of nightmare clients. Knowing what signs to look for within the relationship can help to determine whether or not they’re worth keeping for the long term.

Is firing a customer ever okay?

If a business abides by the old saying “the customer is always right,” then they may find it difficult to ever cut off any professional relationships or work with clients. However, some customers intend to be angry, dissatisfied, or otherwise unreasonable, despite a business owner’s best efforts. Directing more energy towards these bad clients may actually detract from the experience of other customers, dream clients, employee morale, and ultimately your bottom line.

“It is actually immature to spend all the energy to satisfy someone who does not intend to be happy. It is important to address the requirements of hundreds and thousands of other regular clients, and also show solidarity with the employees,” says Caru Singh, Founder of Zooki, in an article on why customers aren’t always right.

Red flag signs you should fire a client

From frequent delinquent payments to a major breach of contract, there are a couple of signs it might be time to fire your client.

Late or delinquent payments

It can be awkward having to repeatedly ask for money that is already owed to you, while trying to remain cordial. However, remembering these factors when handling late-paying clients can help make asking for money in a polite-yet-firm manner an easier process.

  • The company deserves the money: When a client is late on their payment it can disrupt the company’s cash flow. Even though speaking about money can be uncomfortable, don’t feel like a burden bringing up to them the fact that they’re behind on payments. In fact, asking people to pay their debts is a common aspect of running a business. That money is hard-earned, therefore it needs to be paid.
  • Payment deadlines: If there was an established payment deadline — agreed to by both you and the client — it needs to be met. If you’ve fulfilled your end of the bargain and worked within the confines of your end of the contract, and the other party isn’t willing to fulfill theirs, then either the contract or party needs to change. If they fail to do so, you may be committing yourself to a toxic relationship. If it’s in the contract that they need to pay by a certain day, and they fail to meet this time frame, then the client-company relationship may need to end.
  • Don’t show anger: Although it may be hard to hold back, getting visibly/audibly angry with the client can negatively impact a business. Remain calm, or if payments still aren’t made, you should look into hiring a lawyer. Bringing in a third party can help to mediate the situation and allows you to remain professional.

If the client is still reluctant to pay — for whatever reason — it may be time to let them go.

Disrespectful or discriminatory behavior

Rude and disrespectful clients and customers are an unfortunate part of working in customer service. Using helpdesk software, especially as part of a professional services automation (PSA) system, can streamline communication and make it easier to interact with disgruntled customers and avoiding the need to have phone calls.. It may even provide a necessary buffer, structuring messages and feedback and minimizing complaints and keeping the focus on solutions. When structured communication systems and buffers aren’t enough, there are other strategies for handling rude clients.

  • Keep your cool: It’s important to remain professional. This can allow you to better collect your thoughts and attempt to understand where the client is coming from. There is more to lose by getting angry than just the customer. Keeping your cool can be good for everyone in the organization.
  • State the facts: Never insult the difficult client by making them feel belittled or wrong for what they are saying — however, make sure to state the facts. If what they’re stating is wrong, politely correct them with the right information. Providing research backing your claim might help them see that you’re not being rude, just simply telling the truth.
  • Reassure the client: Remind them why they chose to partner with you in the first place. They wouldn’t have chosen your company if they didn’t think you would succeed. Take the time to consider your decision making — is it effective? Do the problem clients understand your intentions?
  • End the conversation: When the client gets out of hand, it’s encouraged to completely end the conversation. Simply requesting to finish the conversation at a different time might be a better alternative.
  • Put the client on probation: Explain to the client that you don’t want to see your relationship end and that you want to be able to provide them with great service, but in order to do so you and your staff need to be treated better. Placing them on a 30-day probationary period shows how serious the company takes their client relationships and that if it continues to dwindle, you will no longer be able to do business with them.

If all these measures still seem to fail, then firing your client might be the final step.

Breach of contract

A breach of contract is when one party in a business deal fails to fulfill any of its contractual obligations. Depending on the specifics of the contract, a breach can be, but is not limited to:

  • Failure to perform on time;
  • Performance is not in accordance with the terms of the agreement;
  • Failure to perform at all.

If either party doesn’t adhere to the contract in any way, then it is appropriate to fire the client.

Tips to fire your client

If and when it comes down to it, firing someone is almost very easy, nor pleasant. However, there are ways to fire a client without burning bridges.

  • If Possible, Finish the Project: This is one of the best ways to let a client go without any animosity. Unless you both agree that finishing the project would be a bad idea, completing the work shows that you are reliable and good on your word. It also prevents any rush fees and late or missing work from occurring when terminated before the project is due. In the case of managed service providers (MSP), it may be a matter of completing a term of service rather than a discrete project, or perhaps even offering to aid in a hand-off so clients aren’t abandoned or left vulnerable in your absence.
  • When Letting Them Go, Make Sure to Follow the Contract: The contract created between you and your client was intended to help you both. Before breaking things off, make sure that the contract details the termination guidelines and that they are followed.
  • Offer Them Referrals or Resources: Offering to be a referral or resource for your client — as long as they weren’t rude or abusive — can help ease the firing process.

Whatever the reason was for letting your client go, keep what led to that decision in mind, especially when bringing on new great clients. This can help you understand what was done well with the previous relationship and what needs to be improved upon for future clients.

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