For more than fifteen years, my friend Erick and I have been giving strong advice to fire clients from time to time. We have different strategies, but the big picture is the same: You have to prune your client garden if you want it to be healthy.
I have heard people resist this and say it only applies to larger companies or already-successful companies. But that's kinda the point: How do you get to have a larger, more successful company? You act like larger, more successful companies acts.
I'm working on a book on customer service, and it really struck me that there's a different way to look at this issue: Branding and Culture.
But first a note on how we got here. I was listening to the ChannelPro Podcast on YouTube. Erick Simpson was standing in for Rich Freeman, who was in Thailand with me. They got on the topic of firing clients due a blog post Erick had written.
and the podcast here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MI15aTE1DU (ChannelPro Weekly podcast #245).
How is it Great Customer Service to Fire Clients?
Well, it starts with customers. In fact, everything in your business needs to start with the customer. Too many people in IT fail to consider WHO their customer should be. And by too many, I mean about 90%. Maybe more.
I firmly believe that you cannot give great customer service if you don't define your ideal customer first. You can give decent or good service, but not great service. Why? Because great service requires you to intentionally redefine what the customer believes they are buying and how it's delivered. And you can't do that with just everybody.
Note: You can give great service to random businesses after they've been with you for five or ten years, because in that time period you HAVE redefined what they think they're buying. They would never go to just another IT consultant and buy generic support.
There are many examples, but let's start with one of the best examples of doing things differently: CostCo. CostCo is a warehouse club. You can't get in the door without a membership. Most things are sold in monstrously large packages. And they don't want you to come in all the time. In fact, they want you to come in once a month, spend $500-1,000, and don't come back for another month.
If you're really new to CostCo, then you know that you have to learn how to be a good shopper. It's way too difficult to drop in to CostCo to buy one pack of gum. No. That's not how you shop there.
CostCo had to train people how to use their services. First you need a membership. Then you need a big cart. Aisles are not labeled, so you should probably walk up and down every aisle to make sure you didn't miss anything. This is very different from Target or other stores.
And here's the important part: CostCo is not right for many people. Some people want to buy in small quantities, go to the store every day, and find well-labeled aisles with the same selection of merchandise every day. So, CostCo is not a good fit for them. CostCo cannot give them "excellent" service by the standards of their other shopping experience.
It's okay for there to be a mismatch between buyers and sellers. In fact, the only way excellent customer service exists is because of this mismatch. Great service at Krogers is great for Kroger customers. CostCo customers would not be impressed. And vice versa.
Now for your business . . .
Once you define you ideal clients, you need to gradually move to serving primarily those people. This has three components. First, you need to actively attract people who want to do business YOUR way. Second, you need to train existing clients to do business your way. Many will be working out fine already. Third, you need to drop clients who do not fit your model.
You can do it slowly over time, but the "bad fits" need to go. Why? Because they're a bad fit, you cannot provide them with excellent service. You are probably not making as much money from them as from good fits. They're not as happy as they should be, and you're not able to serve them as well as they deserve.
Let me give a few examples to make this real within your business model. You probably want clients who:
- Are willing to sign a contract
- Pay their bills on time
- Are willing to create tickets
- Prepay for services on a monthly fee
- Treat you and your staff with respect
- Take your advice
I know that sounds simplistic, but think about it. You've had clients in the past who didn't pay on time, didn't take your advice, refused to use your system, etc. They were not fun to work with, and you didn't make as much money as you should.
So quite definitively, you could not provide them great service according to their needs. And they made your job an unnecessary pain in the butt.
How do you improve this situation for everyone? Stop serving those clients and send them to another IT service provider who will do business the way they want.
One final example. Does a restaurant create an atmosphere to serve the patrons have or the patrons they want? First they decide who they want as patrons. Then they create an atmosphere to attract those people.
IF great customer service requires having the right clients for you business model, then weeding your client garden is critically important. You can't give great customer service if you have the wrong customers!
Your comments welcome.