How to Break Up With a Customer

How to Run a Business

Breaking up is hard to do. But in business as in relationships, sometimes it's the right thing to do.

"Letting go of customers is something most small business owners do at some point," says Associated Press business writer Joyce M. Rosenberg. "Sometimes the survival of the business could be at stake, or it may be a client who cannot be satisfied and becomes an emotional drain on everyone. Even if it's a big account, it may not be worth the risk of unhappy employees quitting."

Before you can decide how to break up with a customer, you must determine whether you should.

According to Rosenberg, good reasons for breaking up with a customer include: not paying enough and/or not paying on time; making your employees feel unhappy or uncomfortable; treating you with disrespect; or being impossible to please.

That last one is especially important: Clients who give constructive criticism are not the same as clients who constantly complain; getting rid of the latter can improve life for you and your employees, but if you divorce the former it could end up hurting instead of helping.

"Complaints from a customer don't have to mean ending a relationship. They can be valuable feedback," explains Rosenberg, who asked business owners like Paige NeJame how they feel about complainy customers.

"A picky customer often points out our weaknesses to us in a way from which we can grow and get better," NeJame -- owner of her own CertaPro painting franchise -- tells Rosenberg. "There is a big difference between 'picky' and 'intolerable.'"

If you do decide to cut ties, the best way to do so is professionally. "The breakup itself should be handled diplomatically and without rancor," advises Rosenberg, who shared this strategy from former small business owner Veronica Kirin of Grand Rapids, Mich.: "I typically make an excuse, such as, we aren't able to handle that project at this time, or we raise our prices … You don't want to burn a bridge and you don't want to hurt your company's name."

More Tips:

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?
Contact Successful Meetings Editor in Chief Vincent Alonzo with your "How To" ideas.