When Do You Fire a Bad Customer?

Noel Boyer

We’ve all had experiences with a customer who, no matter what you do, you just can’t make happy. Maybe you didn’t prune enough, maybe you pruned too much. The price was too high, the grass got torn up or you made them go inside because they kept entering the drop zone under the trees. Regardless of the complaint, they claim their expectations of how the job would be done were not met.

The very first step is to look within the company first. Did the salesperson do a good job of communicating the right expectations? Were the specifications for the job written clearly, with concise details of the work to be performed? Did the crew do exactly what was on the work order? Were they careless in protecting the customer’s property? Were they polite and willing to listen to the client’s complaints, and make every reasonable attempt to make them happy?

In many cases, we discover that we didn’t do a good job of building the right expectations, and then we must engage in conflict-resolution strategies. It also leads to us writing more verbose specifications, especially if we anticipate that the client may be difficult.

Sometimes, after all these assessments have been looked at honestly, we discover that we are working for a person who is simply unreasonable. I have had numerous clients through the years who make it a practice to complain after every single job. I have had customers (often lawyers!) who refuse to pay for the beautiful deadwooding job we did, because they actually just wanted the tree topped. I have been burned to the ground in online reviews over trees that weren’t ever discussed or included on the work order.

In our company, we make every reasonable effort to resolve these issues. Our reputation is our second-most valuable asset – our employees, our first. We do have a limit, however, to how much we will let someone take advantage of our good spirit.

We keep a list of exceptionally difficult clients so that when or if they call back, we simply tell them we are politely bowing out, and they will need to find a new provider. If a client is mean or cussing at my office staff, they immediately get fired as a customer. While we don’t like losing the income from this type of client, we have always found a boost in morale when we announce to the staff that they will never have to endure them again.

Continuing to work for such unreasonable clients is certainly setting your team up for failure.

Noel Boyer, Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA) and Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP), is owner of All About Trees, LLC, a nine-year TCIA member company based in Springfield, Missouri, and a member of TCIA’s Board of Directors.

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