How do you know when you should fire a customer?

Many of us started out in business hearing “the customer is always right” and some people still adhere to that philosophy.

But sometimes we want to shout out a resounding “No!” The customer is not always right and sometimes you need to end the relationship.

This idea may seem counterintuitive for those who have been hard-hit by economic factors in the past few years. After all, shouldn’t you do everything in your power to keep the customers you have? Not if they create hardship.

Maybe they’re a bad fit for your company and the way you do business, maybe they don’t like to pay their bills, or maybe they’re simply jerks. It would be great if all relationships with customers went smoothly but some just don’t. There may come a time when you need to take a serious look at firing a customer, so here are some circumstances when it may be appropriate.

The customer is verbally abusive to you or your employees. We know a business owner who once returned from the Christmas holidays to find a particularly caustic voicemail from a customer, lambasting him for having closed the company’s offices. Who wants to work with someone like that?

Then there are the people who seem to think it’s OK to be rude to employees because they’re just “the help.” Your employees are some of your most valuable assets and if you allow this kind of thing to continue, you may lose them. You shouldn’t have to tolerate customers who are rude and consistently have everyone in an uproar, and they should be fired.

The customer is consistently late when paying their bills. You have cash flow needs and should be paid in a timely manner for the goods and services you provide. Everyone deserves a second or maybe even a third chance, and everyone overlooks a bill from time to time.

But if this behavior becomes routine with a customer and you have to fight to get paid, they obviously don’t think it’s important to pay your bill on time. They’re costing you additional time and money when you have to collect from them. Maybe you should refer them to your competitor.

The customer is no longer a match with your restructured company. You may have worked with a certain demographic in the past but have decided to change your business model. Perhaps you’ve previously worked with small businesses but now want to work with large corporations, and small companies no longer fit your business.

You might have good relationships with smaller clients and enjoy working with them, but the day may come when you need to stop. In this case, you probably want to take a kinder approach to letting them go, but you still need to do it.

The customer is just plain difficult to work with. If you’re a professional, maybe this client constantly cancels appointments at the last minute because they’re “too busy,” or calls to complain every month about your bill. If you’re a manufacturer or builder, they might constantly want you to rush production or change specifications, but then argue about paying for rush orders or changes.

Customers who routinely drop appointments or consume your time with changes and complaints are probably costing you money. Unless you need their work to survive, it’s time for them to go.

The customer’s personality clashes with yours. This situation often arises with professionals — accountants, lawyers, consultants — who must work very closely with clients on a face-to-face basis. But it can also be a factor for any customer you have to deal with.

Judy once had a professor who wisely said, “Not everyone is going to like you…but you don’t like everyone else either.” If your personalities interact like oil and water, you’ll probably do both parties a favor if you end the relationship.

The customer costs you money. If this person is constantly causing you to have to change plans, strategies, or products, they’re probably costing you money. If you work with them on a contract basis and they consistently consume more time than your other customers, they’re probably costing you money. You’re not in business to donate your products or services, so if you’re losing money on a customer, it’s better to say goodbye.

We believe you should fire any customer who disrupts your organization, abuses you or your employees, routinely costs you money or who you simply don’t like. We realize that sometimes it’s a struggle to get customers at all and you hate to lose any of them. But life is too short and you spend too many hours at your business to have to deal with people who make your life unpleasant or more difficult.

Sometimes you just have to fire them.

Laddie and Judy Blaskowski are partners in several businesses, including BusinessTruths Consulting. They are authors of The Step Dynamic: A Powerful Strategy for Successfully Growing Your Business.