If You Love Your Customers, Set Them Free

September 13, 2012

Customer service writers talk a lot about “firing” customers. The discussion is an important one, as most people have a difficult time severing ties with problem customers. However, what is more difficult and rarely discussed is letting go of a good customer because you cannot meet their needs.

In these cases, the customer is not unreasonable nor overly demanding, they are just looking for a type of product or service that you cannot provide. Perhaps the product you offer has 80% of the features they are looking for, perhaps the service you provide is missing a few key extras to make it just right.

It happens.

When there is a gulf between what you can provide and what the customer wants, you have two basic choices:

1) Find out how important the difference between what you provide and what they want really is. If you’re lucky, the difference is not material, and you can help them to focus on the value of what you do provide. However, if what remains in the gap between what you provide and what they expect really does matter to them, you have another choice:

2) Let them go.

Many in business do not believe in this concept. They will try to force the issue. Yet, this approach almost always results in a customer who is not happy and who eventually leaves with a negative view of the organization.

Sure, the person spent some more money with you in that time, but was it really worth it?

Probably not.

If you let customers go when you know you cannot provide them what they want, they can become among your biggest proponents, raving fans who are not customers.

For starters, letting the customer go is a selfless act rarely seen in business. Simply the contrast between that action and what the customer expects as normal creates an instant feeling of goodwill.

Additionally, the customer will be a much bigger evangelist for you if you end the relationship when it is in their best interest as opposed to milking them for every nickel while they gradually become frustrated by their unmet needs. If you push them down that unrewarding path, they will almost certainly become detractors for your business.

Letting go of a problem customer is hard; letting go of a good customer is even harder. But if you love your customers, sometimes you just have to set them free.

Have you ever had to let go of a good customer or even send them to a competitor?

7 thoughts on “If You Love Your Customers, Set Them Free”

  1. Yes I have. I used to write the coverages for a car dealership which is a very specialized line and we only had one market who could do this. They decided to get out of this market so the only solution I had was a duct tape, bailing wire approach. We could have done it but the coverages would not have been as good and the price would have been more. The owner was relying on me to do what was best for them.

    I called in a competitor who also had a specialized program for this and they did a jam up job. I’m not sure we got the love I was expecting, but I do know I did what was best for the customer and that has always been my approach.

    In the end, you just need to do the ‘right’ thing; right?

    1. I have a similar story… I remember in my first month of opening a new retail store, we had a lady come in for a service and she was really desperate. We were completely booked up for the day, so I actually got on the phone and called a competitor around the corner and got her in. I don’t know if she ever came back or even spoke well of us, but she was very appreciative and it was the right thing to do.

  2. I think that your customers will respect you more when you do that, just don’t forget to ask them for feedback before they leave so you can gather data on what to improve next. Yes, it’s hard.. been there and it can take a toll on your emotions. But everyone has the right to choose, so let it be.

    1. Hi Shaleen, you make a good point. I do think it builds respect for your business when you admit to a customer that you are not able to provide them what they are looking for. It’s not easy, but its better for all parties in the end.

  3. Your point about becoming a raving fan is an excellent one. I know that I’m the sort that loves to rave about companies who do what is right. We live in an age where people like me have a lot of outlets for raving.

    If someone does a really good job, I’ll tell a friend, tweet 2400 followers, post on FB, and if I’m feeling particularly frisky, make sure to take a photo for Four Square the next time I go back. Oh, and I WILL go back.

    In fact, I’m going back to a camera shop in Iowa City, just because of the great customer service they gave me. There is a tripod head I was interested in and the owner said he would order one, but stressed that I didn’t need to buy it. I generally like to buy through Amazon, because I have an affiliate link on my blog (usually, it is down now) and I get 6% back, plus no sales tax, so it comes out to a 13% savings. It is a $100.00 purchase, so that is a nice chunk, but in this instance I’m giving him my business, because he EARNED it.

    1. Hey Brian, this comment got lost in the flood of #blogjack comments yesterday. You know, I think there is a lot of pressure (internal and external) to try to force a customer relationship, even one that is not working. If we can do what’s best for the customer overall, we can create raving fans like you are describing, even ones that might not come to us for our products or services.

  4. Pingback: 5 Lessons Salespeople Can Teach Customer Service Professionals

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