Firing Customers: When Enough is Enough

The customer is always right is a tenet of customer service. It’s akin to a customer service law. But the truth is the customer isn’t always right and sometimes, when a customer is really unreasonable, it’s okay to fire them.

Around the holidays, my Facebook feed had a great share from Liberty Bottleworks, a Washington-based company with the tagline that reads, “The only American made metal bottles in the marketplace.” Apparently, an unhappy customer had posted their displeasure about their experience on the company’s Facebook page. But apparently, the COO and cofounder of the company, Ryan Clark, had a different take on what happened with her order. He is returning her money and firing her as a customer.  Here’s are some excerpts from what he had to say:

“The buck stops with me. This will I am sure will (Stet) upset you but…my customer service team will not be helping you on the weekends.”


“We pride ourselves on doing things well, we pride ourselves on dointhings right, ewepride ourselves on doing theing the American Way. Not instant gratification 24 hour shopping on Thanksgiving type of American way but family and country type of American Way. They way our grandparents did things type of American way.”

And of course:

“Please be advised we will not be shipping you your order you will not be charged. I will not do business with anyone that threatens my employees the way you have.”

And my favorite part:

“Merry Christmas!”

To see his whole response to the customer, please read the full post on

Sometimes customers are unreasonable.  It’s OK to fire customers. Many people think being customer-centric means you need to give customers everything they want. You don’t. You need to define who you want your customers to be and focus on them.  Focus on providing an experience that gives them the things that drive value for you and them.

Clark mentions near the end of his post how he does not want to business with someone that treats the employees poorly. This is good for employee morale. It’s OK to fire customers especially if they are being abusive to employees.

Employee engagement refers to the level that your employees support and promote the brand promise you have created for your organization. For example, if you say in your branding that at your store there’s a friendly smile on every aisle, then your employees are the one smiling in the aisles. In my first book, I talk about the seven philosophies for building a great customer experience and the fourth one is about employee engagement. It says: “Great Customer Experiences are enabled by inspirational leadership, an empowering culture and empathetic people who are happy and fulfilled.”

Dealing with a belligerent and rude customer is not a catalyst for happy and fulfilled employees. But telling your employees that they no longer have to take what the customer is dishing out when the customer has crossed the line, shows them that leadership values them and inspires them to keep smiling in the aisles, or on the phones as the case may be. This is better for all the other customers, the ones you want.

Of course, we don’t have the benefit of the customer’s side of this story. Let’s hope that they did cross the line and were threatening employees, otherwise this post should be called: What to Do When the COO Blows His Stack on a Facebook Rant.

Of course, you can’t fire every dissatisfied customer. In fact, small business owners can’t really afford to fire any of their customers. Paul and Sara Edwards, co-authors of Middle Class Lifeboat, shared some guidelines for how to manage to keep your cool when customer service is getting heated. From knowing what makes you lose your cool to waiting to respond to the customer until you are more calm, their suggestions are all good points for developing emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to control one’s emotions and the emotions of others. What the Edwards’ suggest are the types of behaviors that can help you do just that. Emotional intelligence is a critical skill for both leaders and employees that interact with customers.

Customers are an important part of the customer experience. But so are your employees. Be sure that you are doing all you can to create the best possible experience for your core customers. But when it isn’t enough for those particularly difficult customers, don’t be afraid to let them know that their business is no longer needed.

Have you ever had to let a customer go? How did you handle it? Please share your stories in the comments below.

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin has been recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 150 Business Influencers in the world.  He is an international author of four best-selling books on Customer Experience. Colin’s company, Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialized research & training from our Global Headquarters in Tampa, Florida, USA.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter: @ColinShaw_CX