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Firing Customers

Recently eReleases let a few customers go. Fired them. It was sad to do but in the best interests of the company, staff, and resources. One customer, lets call him Willy, has always been “high maintenance”. Willy would ask for advice and send in press release ideas and drafts for us to review.

(If you are not aware of this perk, our editors will review your press release at no charge — although turnaround time is dependent on workloads. No rewrites or exhaustive reviews, just an honest appraisal of your press release and perhaps a quick suggestion or two.)

Back to Willy. He is never happy. Yet Willy continues to use us … most of the time. Andrew, one of my new employees, recently disclosed that he had spent more than seven hours reviewing and making suggestions to several drafts from this customer.

I was not happy.

Willy had not even placed an order. In fact, he had done the same thing several months before and then used another press release distribution service. During a one hour period, Willy called the office more than ten times. That’s when I instituted a new rule: customers get one free review and employees are not to spend more than 15 minutes on it. If you don’t treat my employees with respect, you get nothing but a warm recommendation to find another press release service.

This particular customer said he was placing an order to go out the next day and would be sending yet another complete draft of his press release so disregard the many previous drafts. Andrew works until 7pm Eastern Time. At 6:45pm, I told Andrew that if Willy places the order this late to simply use the final version and let the client know he will not be getting an editorial review due to the late submission (and abuse).

Andrew didn’t listen.

Willy sent his press release minutes before 7pm and Andrew spent over an hour fixing the press release and getting changes approved by the client. I warned Andrew that all this extra work will not be appreciated in the end.

Willy is toxic. He will still find something wrong and blame us.

Guess what? I was right.

Willy omitted a link to a photo he intended to use and then pointed the finger at us because some of his previous drafts included such a link, despite the fact that his final draft and the heavily edited proof Andrew sent to the client for approval didn’t have the link.

Willy made countless phone calls requesting we send a corrected press release at no charge. He was not friendly and the abuse persisted. Next time Willy sends us a press release to review, he will find no one willing to work on it here. He will be politely told that we don’t feel we can serve his needs and that he should find another press release distribution service.

When you find yourself locked into a bad relationship, even when it is a vendor / customer relationship, it’s best to part ways in a polite but firm manner. Andrew had a hard time accepting this, having thought that the customer is always right and that we must do whatever we can to make the customer happy. Also, when a single customer takes advantage of your most valuable resource — time — you should evaluate how your business operates and consider rules to reign in potential abusers.

Another customer, lets call him Carl, had signed up for our affiliate program and was writing to complain that he had not been compensated for two orders placed over the past few months. He said that our affiliate manager was “extorting money,” adding: “We are not unsatisfied with eReleases, quite the contrary, that is why we wanted to send our business your way … If we do not have some resolution we will sadly have to choose another provider.”

The problem here is that our affiliate program only pays out for referring a new customer to eReleases. Carl was only “referring” himself.

The two orders Carl complained about were from Carl.

I react to words. The use of “extorting” and the threat of finding another provider got me a little angry. I waited until I cooled off and simply explained:

“Our affiliate program pays out on new customers only [which is pretty explicit]. Your previous two orders were for your companies. As a result, the payouts were not approved. It is an affiliate program and not a discount program. We appreciate your business but understand if you must go elsewhere in the future.”

I feel that focusing on customers who appreciate our time and treat us respectfully will ultimately make us a better company. By removing the customers who require the most labor for the smallest payout, eReleases will become more efficient and a better place to work.

Times are tight. It’s important that you work smarter as well as harder to retain business. It seems completely antithetical to common sense to fire customers in this economic climate. I would posit just the opposite: now is the time to get as efficient and customer-centric as possible. Anything you can do to optimize your business while allowing you to better serve the bulk of your customer base is a good thing — even if it comes at the expense of a minority of your most difficult and least profitable customers.

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

12 Responses

  1. Lauren says:

    The key point of your article — to work harder and smarter and to be customer-centric — is well made. But wouldn’t it have been better to lead with that statement and use some gentle examples to support it, rather than openly bashing a customer? The whole article smacks of bitterness and petty playground politics.

    I’ve never done business with eReleases, and while I appreciate the fact that you may go above and beyond in your customer service department, this article is a really bad example of that. I’m not likely to choose a service that drops a client and then bad mouths them on top of it, whether their name was changed or not.

  2. prfuel says:

    Lauren,

    Actually, I disagree. If I wrote the article as you recommended, very few people would bother to read it and it would be the same bland drivel you find all over the Internet. I see nothing bitter here. I see nothing petty. It’s ok to say some customers are not worth the bother. The whole article is about drawing a line in the sand. So few of eReleases’ customers — mostly small and medium-sized businesses — get that. Obviously, you responded to it. You bothered to enter the conversation and you’ve never done business with eReleases.

  3. This was an excellent, worthwhile article. I’ve been in business as a freelance writer for almost 20 years and I’m just now starting to understand that not all work pays. It’s best to drop high aggravation clients even if it means you now have to work diligently to replace them or lose the income altogether.
    Claudia Kienzle

  4. Emma says:

    I completely agree with Lauren. This is an example of poor customer relations/marketing on eReleases part. Learn to be more professional… and take responsibility for your part in letting such customers take advantage of you and your services. This doesn’t sound like an article trying to educate and inform your clients/customers. It sounds more like a complaint against your customers – and who knows how many others you talk bad about in other articles or when you’re working with others.

  5. Fabian Burrell says:

    This article was well-written. So few articles engage me on the internet. I read it through to the end. Point well made. I am an independent journalist and pr professional and can’t tell you the countless times I have submitted work to a client and was never compensated. After a while, I would drop them from my client list and move on to work with the few that always recognize good work with fair wagess. Thank you for making me feel “right!”

  6. David says:

    I loved the article. It is very well written and very engaging. And I too have “fired” clients. There are so many permutations on the 80/20 rule, it gets confusing (80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients), but difficult clients are not good clients. And typically they are not revenue generators. Finally, to the people that complained about the article, think about what ereleases does for a living. They are here to create attention, generate publicity, etc. And Mickie has certainly done that here as evidenced by these first five comments.

  7. Mark Eldon says:

    Lauren – It’s only “petty” if it’s not YOUR MONEY paying for staff to deal with time-sink unappreciative customers. “playground politics”??… – sounds to me like eReleases is a place of business, not a playground, and what the heck does “politics” have to do with anything Mr. Kennedy wrote about? Sorry, really don’t get that about your complaint.

    Emma – Sounds like you agree with the LIE that “customer is always right” – the TRUTH is this “the customer is always the customer” and that is all. Until he’s not the customer anymore. Mr. Kennedy simply made the decision that these two clients weren’t going to be customers anymore.

    You guys need to get your heads screwed on straight, like Claudia and Fabian and David.

    This article was a breath of fresh air amongst the stale, vapid (but “professional”) writing that is all too common. Keep up the good work, Mr. Kennedy!

  8. David Rogers says:

    While there may, subconsciously, be a revenge factor on the part of eReleases in writing this article, the real message is that (in whatever business or industry) we need to more effectively manage our customers. I formerly worked for a financial PR firm and was constantly frustrated by the partners’ seeming unwillingness to better manage not only client expectations, but often excessive client demands — all while I was trying to serve the needs of multiple accounts simultaneously.

    In the so-called “modern” world, much of customer service has become impersonal. It’s a breath of fresh air when you call a company and get a voice on the other end instead of having to negotiate through a recorded Q&A that has absolutely no relevance to your objective in calling the company. It’s kind of nice to get a birthday card from someone you are giving business to, or flowers from them if you are in the hospital.

    But in this day and age, there are limits to the old adage, “The customer is always right.” People growing up with that philosophy now baldly abuse good and well-intentioned businesses with excessive demands — then look for reasons to get out of paying for the services or products provided. They are the minority, to be sure, but they are really playing havoc with the willingness of otherwise good business people to gracefully bend over backwards in serving the majority.

    As Fabian said, this article was very engaging — although I am not really sure what the business purpose was for eReleases. Was it just venting? Or is it a marketing piece to persuade me to use eReleases to distribute press releases?

    If venting, then I’m not sure this is the appropriate forum. If a marketing piece, it was good reading but does not compel me to use eReleases as my distribution service. It did, however, reinforce my belief that in today’s world we need to manage client expectations more efficiently, especially as they demand more of our precious resources, including the most precious: time.

  9. Emma nailed it right on the head, this is an internal matter and each employee should be trained to handle this and not publish in such a childish way and waste the time of your current or future customers. I was going to use ereleases but believe I’ll go with a more professional company.

  10. Corissa says:

    I liked the article. I have subscribed to learn more and get ideas. This article actually made me feel better about instances in the past where Ive had to let go of a few just like those above. I always beat myself up for it though. This gave me that reaasurance that I did the right thing. It is better to let go of the hassles so that you can put more time and effort in the right areas.

  11. SENSIBLE … Your article makes sense. In 23 years of being a business owner I have run into some clients who are time wasters and never appreciate hours of extra care and free repairs, products or services … they never refer any wonderful clients. The clients who never want anything for free and do not not take advantage of my staff … are a pleasure to give free service and extra’s to and they are usually the ones who refer other clients who are also wonderful clients to serve. People who are users are not good to have as clients, vendors or employees. Taker’s drain your energy and resources and the best thing to do is to remove yourself from their life. It is impossible to make a complainer, abuser, taker, happy and to waste your time and resources trying to change them thru your good deeds is not using good business sense. Tigers do not change their stripes. Appreciate your wonderful clients and give them everything possible. Cut loose the complainers and they will find a business to serve them that is appropriate to their style. Water seeks it’s own level. Be courageous, generous and honest in your business and you will be rewarded with like minded employees and clients.

  12. Ends says:

    Guys, the equation is simple really;

    If you’re a customer, you’d disagree.
    If you’re a business owner, you’d agree.

    That’s it.

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