I recommend creating a toxic customer exit strategy. Over time, having this strategy in your back pocket saves your sanity, as well as professional integrity. Otherwise, toxic customers walk all over you, your colleagues and your organization. No matter how well you honor your commitments to them.
A toxic customer exit strategy is just that: what are the key indicators that it is time to jettison this particular client relationship.
Most of the time, clear-cut factors indicate that a client is going to be toxic. In spite of all of the bravado the customer feeds you, when they sign your contract. I offer the following scenario to you. Because it tends to be prevalent in many smaller businesses.
One of my clients secured my consulting services because he wanted to grow his business. In our preliminary conversations, he quoted levels of revenue over the last three years which, unfortunately, were not validated when I actually looked at his financials. That was my first sign that things were not quite as they seemed.
After working virtually for a while, I eventually toured his physical location. I found that in reality, his company did not resemble the business he described to me. In addition, his employees were grossly under-skilled and not able to create the type of output he was selling. Finally, he asked me to make his business look bigger than it actually was. The combination of these other factors clearly indicated that this was a toxic customer.
I diplomatically declined his “make my business look bigger” request. Then, I clearly stated why: it was not ethical for me to mis-represent his business. However, I was willing to help him model his current business so, in fact, it did grow. Was he prepared to buy into the work required to legitimately accomplish his goals?
In this scenario, my toxic customer exit strategy involves offering viable options which are feasible and realistic.
As a result, you avoid coming across with a “my way or the highway” attitude. Instead, you stand tall in your expertise and integrity. You offer ethical options in the best interest of building their business and honoring the goals of the original contract. In this particular scenario, the client changed the scope of the contract during the course of my consultancy.
As a result of his actions, I had to re-negotiate the contract due to scope creep, for starters. In addition, I needed to discuss the change in business objectives.
When exiting a toxic client relationship, go for a win-win. I was able to wrap up the practical and applicable work I was doing for him, issue him a final invoice and walk away.
A hard call, yes. But an ethical one that impacts my professional reputation, and my team’s. And over time, a wise decision. Because that company lost more customers than it gained. While they found another consultant to position themselves as one thing, they were quite something else, entirely. And their customers, unfortunately, discovered this discrepancy.
- Have you had to execute a toxic customer exit strategy?
- Under what circumstances?
- Was your manager breathing down your neck to close the deal or create the design by skimping and cutting back?
- How did you feel when you made that hard call?
- How did things play out, over time?
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Babette Ten Haken catalyzes organizations and associations, like yours, who want to leverage a more profitable workforce to retain the customers you work so hard to win. Her One Millimeter Mindset™ speaking and consulting programs leverage collaboration to catalyze professional innovation, workforce engagement and customer retention. She is a member of SME, ASQ, SHRM and the National Speakers Association. Babette’s Playbook of collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com. Her professional speaker profile appears on the espeakers platform.
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