Firing is never fun, but sometimes common sense requires it

Updated Aug 1, 2019
Jody ShilanJody Shilan

Being fired is probably one of the five worst experiences that someone can go through. It means that you aren’t valuable to the company, frequently cause problems and/or have bad habits that are disruptive to others.

Outside the work environment, you could be a very nice person, but when it comes to your business relationships, people just don’t want to work with you.

Maybe it’s because you’re never satisfied and always complaining, or it could be that you blame everybody else for your mistakes. Then again, it could just be that nobody likes you and you cost the company more money than you are worth.

Add to this the simple fact that you create havoc whenever you call the office, never buy any extras, want discounts on every service and always pay your bills Net 90. It’s no wonder that one day you got a pink slip that said, “We thank you for your previous patronage, but as of today we will no longer be working for you.  We wish you the best of luck in your search for a new landscaping company.”

That’s right, I’m not talking about letting one of your employees go. I’m talking about firing a customer.

Believe it or not, firing a bad customer is as important to the success of your business as is firing bad employees. If you’ve never heard of this practice and would like to learn why it’s so important for the health of your business, please keep reading.

Customers still rule, within reason

In the early 1900s, the expression “the customer is always right” became popularized by pioneering and successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. The goal of this slogan was to instill in employees that customer satisfaction was the No. 1 priority – the theory being that a satisfied customer who had a great experience would return, again and again, to make future purchases.

In addition, a satisfied customer would tell their friends and family about their experience, bringing in even more business.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense and in theory made it easier for an employee to service a customer properly. Customer complaints were to be treated seriously, so that they should never feel cheated or dissatisfied. No matter what a customer asked for, the employee had an obligation to satisfy that request. No arguments, no negotiations and therefore, no complaints.

However, as time went on and people became more and more demanding, satisfying them not only became difficult but downright impossible. Customers pushed the limits of customer service by making outrageous requests, knowing that company employees had to comply. If they did not, they risked being fired.

Fast forward to the present, when businesses still feel that customer satisfaction is a top priority; however, the words “always right” are now being rethought. You might say that these days the expression should be, “The customer is almost always right.” It’s not as catchy, but it certainly is much more realistic.

When it’s time to say goodbye

We’ve all heard stories of the restaurant customer who ate 90 percent of his meal, only to complain that the food was completely dissatisfying and then ask for a full refund.

To bring the concept closer to home, how many of you have been asked to replace a plant that died because it was never watered?  Naturally, the client swore that they watered it every day and probably even dropped the hose on it just before you came to check on it.

Although the customer is clearly in the wrong, are you still obligated to satisfy them? The answer is yes and no.

If a longstanding client, who has hired you to design and build their backyard and uses you for maintenance services, asks you to replace a few plants that are six months out of warranty, then by all means go ahead and do it at no cost to them.

They have always been reasonable, invested in you over the years and have always paid their bills on time. So why not do the right thing and keep them satisfied?

On the other hand, if this same client consistently complains about your quality and service, requires you to make service call after service call after service call to fix things that weren’t broken, wasting your time and money, then it’s time to run a customer profit and loss statement to determine whether it’s time to let them go.

Although you may not call them up and flat out say, “You’re fired,” not renewing their maintenance contract or refusing to do future install work for them should get the point across.

If you want to be more direct, send them a pink slip letting them know that their business is no longer desired.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Jody Shilan. Shilan is a landscape design/build sales consultant and offers advice on his site, and the former executive director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association. 

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