Knowing When to Let Go of Bad Computer Repair Customers

bad-customers

Building an expanding customer base is one of the utmost concerns for any growing or budding computer repair business. My Technibble articles consistently focus on the various ways to harness new business and keep it for the long term. But an unwieldy topic that comes up in every businesses’ lifespan is the quandary of not only knowing how to let go of a bad customer, but just as importantly deciding when exactly is the right time to come to such a conclusion.

Consider this an unofficial extension to the discussion I started in my previous article that targeted the how-to of firing bad customers. This topic is very fresh on my mind because my company FireLogic recently ran across a situation that required me to make the tough decision to cut ties with what was originally an exciting new customer. While I won’t get into specifics, the reasons to drop this relatively new client were getting more and more evident with each day that passed.

From a lack of client-technician trust, to unwarranted and baseless finger pointing, and temper issues that would make Donald Trump look like a saint, I had to put my foot down and call it quits. It’s very hard to say no to potential business with a straight face, but knowing when the time is right to hasten such a decision will save you a lot of aggravation and time on a growing dead-end relationship.

Going off my own experiences with the above, and similar sub-par customers, here are my top pieces of advice when it comes to dropping bad business before it bites your company’s bottom line.

A client’s trust in your services is as important as their ability to pay

If you’re building a business along the lines that you’ll take on ANY customer as long as they can pay, you’re truly setting yourself up for major bumps in the long term. In the example I used above, one of the biggest reasons I cut ties with this unnamed customer is because of the degrading lack of trust that existed on their behalf. Let me clarify – there was almost no trust in my company from the day we stepped in for the first consultation. This customer cited issues with past technicians as the basis for their lack of trust, but I truly think it was the other way around: no techs could service this customer because they were unmanageable in every regard. This should have been my first clear sign of trouble.

Back to the point, however, is that you should approach each new customer with an eye to see how it is that they view your company as soon as you walk through the door. What kind of language is the customer using in discussions about what they are looking for, and what they expect of your company? Is your expertise and professionalism being questioned right out of the gate? Is the customer acting as the true expert, merely utilizing your services for the sake of manpower rather than professional insight? These are all warning signs to a relationship that could end up in disaster, as I very well experienced just a short time ago. A good rapport going two ways is essential to a solid long term relationship between your computer repair business and your customers.

Don’t get caught in an endless blame game, because you can’t win

Another reason why I decided to cut ties with the aforementioned troublesome customer is because my company was being blamed for numerous IT-related issues that we had no hand in. Our services were called in to help resolve a bevy of problems that were festering until our arrival. Even after our best efforts, we still had the lower hand in a vicious blame game that was being led on by an unnamed third party provider which had a longer business relationship with the client than we ever could have had. I rightfully defended my company’s stance on the issues and our decisions on how to resolve them, but a lack of trust further tarnished our ability to stand on a professional footing through this nightmare.

This rule goes pretty simply: if you’re stuck in a blame game war, either you vs customer or in a multi-party scenario, consider it your beacon that an exit path is needed soon. The customer always considers themselves right and will continue to view you in a poor light no matter what truths you may bestow your stance in. It’s a perpetual game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey, and you guessed it – your company is the eternal donkey here.

Profits shouldn’t blind your decisions on who to work with

Just a few weeks back I argued why trimming services that don’t make money is a good idea. One of my main points in the article was that you shouldn’t let short term profits get in the way of good decision making. There definitely is such a thing as great short term money making that leads to horrible long term repeat business. This same model stands true for customers that should ultimately be dropped for a combination of reasons – some of which may look like what I described above.

I sadly looked past my gut feeling in dealing with the above customer because of the short-sighted promise of multiple near term projects and ultimately a fervent promise of long term business. That should have been one of my first clues to trouble ahead: when a customer uses the basis of their potential future usage of your services as to why discounts and/or promised service should be given in the shorter term. These should red flags for any serious discussion with a new customer, especially business clients that are looking to bring your company in for outsourced IT support needs. Getting entrenched too far with such customers places your company in a bad position and makes it ever-so-harder to cut ties down the road.

Just as much as a customer has the right to choose your company over another, you can freely decide on who YOU want to work for too. Don’t be afraid to practice this two-way right.

Hoping that “next visit” will be better is wishful thinking

I was under the misguided impression that once “all this” blew over with the aforementioned customer, we could get off to a better footing and move forward. Time and time again, I was wrong, and felt the relationship spiraling downward on each subsequent visit. In fact, I dreaded waking up on the days that we were scheduled to be onsite at this client’s location – it literally brought out the worst emotion inside. Even our best efforts couldn’t clear the veil of doubt cast upon my company, and my wishing that the situation would improve didn’t end up happening. Instead, we blew through countless hours of free support that couldn’t be billed out and we had no clear path for moving forward positively on discussed projects.

Your gut feeling shouldn’t be dismissed as mere emotion. If you feel like a relationship is endlessly heading south, it’s probably gone too far already and you’re just catching on. Count your losses, close off efforts to patch the relationship, and follow my advice on how to cleanly cut ties and go your own separate ways.

Computer repair is a service that requires an imprecise mixture of trust, communication, and responsibility which are critical pillars to solid long term relationships. When any one of the above factors fall out of tune, it’s a downhill spiral that only grows out of control, eventually leaving casualties on both sides of the field. Use best judgement when consulting with prospective new customers to save yourself the frustration and stress that comes with defusing irreparable relationships. Just because someone calls for service, this doesn’t mean you are obligated to oblige blindly. An ounce of prevention will go a long way.

What kind of experiences do you have with customers that led you to re-think a relationship? When did you know that it was time to “cut the noose” with a customer? Do you have tips for dealing with out of control situations? Share them with us in the comments section – we’d love to hear about it!



Derrick Wlodarz

About the Author

Derrick Wlodarz
More articles by me...
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist that owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over 8+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him directly at derrick@wlodarz.net.

Comments (13)

  • Nathan - Downunder says:

    I can sympathize Derrick.
    I had a potential customer approach me recently, requesting a HTPC quotation he claimed he built a theatre with projectors/Full HD and 3D and wanted a system with the works sparing no expense.
    I told him that this would not be a cheap exercise yet he insisted he wanted the best.
    Several options were presented to which he countered asking for cheaper pricing or inferior parts each time to reduce overall cost.
    Over the course of 3 weeks he called me approx 5 times with about 4-5 questions each time. Followed by about 3-4 emails with about 5-6 detailed questions each time. By the time he was required to put up a deposit on a build, he had another 5-6 questions. At this point alarm bells rang. I politely told the client that i dont mind clients asking me questions to feel comfortable dealing with me, however the amount of questions he had asked lent me to believe he may not be ready for a machine of this complexity and perhaps he would be better suited with ‘off the shelf’ equipment from a store thats simple to use and cheaper. Unsurprisingly i never heard from him again. that was money i didn’t miss.

    • Tony Scarpelli says:

      I begin each project like this with a realistic if not high shoot from the hip estimate. The reason is that I do not want to get into it and have them say that is too expensive. If it is complicated I charge then for the analysis to come up with an accurate estimate just like most larger system companies.

      But this applies to the small break fix operations as well. how many times do you get a call for a quote on a video card from some gamer? I just tell them we do not sell parts unless accompanied by repair. I’m never going to be able to make my margin of profit and sell to a gamer as they think I can meet NewEggs prices which I won’t. SO I have learned over 19 years that just tell the gamers that is not what you do. CPU and Memory I shy away from selling as they could damage them but if they insist I tell them no returns, period on cash and carry but we will install free if they bring their laptop in (memory).

      Another area where open communications saves time and heart ache is laptops. I charge a flat $59 diagnostic before I will even look up a parts price for screen/mobo or what have you. I tell them I set a minimum price to work on laptop hardware at, until last year, $199. now its only $169. $99 labor (I explain I have to disassemble and reassemble and that alone with worth $99) and $69 allotted for soldering, additional labor and/or parts such as screen, DC jack or what have you. I warn in the case of a whole new motherboard, it could be more but it will not be less. This blows away the jackoffs. If it is not worth it to you to fix your laptop than it is not worth it to me. How about a new one instead?

      I find people will waste much of your time if you let them. Why spend 10 and 20 minutes looking up parts and giving an accurate estimate to find out that they thought you could do it all for $30? So as a time saving technique give reasonable estimates up front, charge for a fixed quote on laptops and go from there.

      • elcompudoctor says:

        great post!

        • techpitt says:

          Great avatar! And… great post! I love blowing dust out with the metrovac just as much as I love not wasting scads of time doing work without pay.

          • Rajeshwari says:

            I definitely would renmomecd this product to anyone looking to protect his/her investment in the TouchPads. I bought two shields and applied them without too much effort onto the devices. Once the product heals itself, you could hardly notice that a protective shield is there. I’m very impressed with this product, and for the price, it can’t be beat. Thank you.

  • ron says:

    Years ago a read a story on this topic.

    A small computer shop sold a computer to a guy who didn’t have a clue. Every day he spent an hour or more on the phone asking for support. He hit all of the “dumb (l)user” cliches. He kept asking for a new machine, but there was nothing wrong with it, he just didn’t know how to use it.

    Finally, the help technician agreed and told him to bring the computer in. When he got there, his replacement computer was sitting on the counter. He was very pleased. So was the help tech as he explained to the user that he would have to call a new number for phone support.

    The reason was simple. The store was fed up wasting time supporting him. They had gone out and bought a computer from a competitor, unloading this expensive customer on them.

  • Tony Scarpelli says:

    Good Article Derrik.

    My public speaking class says that 1/3 of the people in the audience will be open to you (probably remind them of someone they like), 1/3 will reject you (probably remind them of someone they had bad dealings with) and the last 1/3 are the ones that will go either-way depending on how you present to them.

    I keep this in mind with customers as it seems to hold true in business as well. Not that 1/3 of my customers are that difficult, they are not but maybe 1 in 50. Break fix you do not get that close of interaction so this is less significant of issue but in network clients where you deal with them week to week it is more likely to pertain.

    Most can be managed but if there is a lack of trust then that is something you should address before it gets out of hand. I find by confronting the client mildly saying something like “i get the feeling that you are highly skeptical of the strategy, cost or some other thing that i have given you?” This often starts a dialog in ways I cannot predict and most of the time it comes out very nicely in my favor or the favor of having a good customer. Often I find I misread them or the situation. Or they misread me and it gets cleared up and the client then seems to become a good friend after that. So it is sort of anti intuitive.

    The customer trusts me because he realizes that I am listening to him. If however the customer states “nothing wrong, no i trust you and bla bla bla,” then run the other way. Not only does he not trust you but he won’t even recognize it to himself or he is lieing to you and disaster is coming soon or later and it will always be someone else s fault not his.

    I began threading on Technibble a few years ago about firing the bottom 10% of your customers each year as a growth strategy and you can google it to read the whole thread. It is a way to stop wasting time with those worst customers and freeing time to take care of the money makers. We all should do some level of job costing so that we can print out profitability reports and see which customers are our good and bad ones. This is different in that you are making profitability decisions and this process drives a whole new outlook from your network clients who want you to keep them.

    In the case of the guy who you cannot stand or feel he cannot stand you, it is best to address it directly and honestly and if it cannot be mitigated this way move on and save both of you some heart ache down the line.

    When I started my retail stores I had these Gypsies and other Lebanese and some other nationalities that would negotiate every price I gave them and it turned out I felt like we spent too much time negotiating. I finally told them to call my competitor who was Lebanese as I didn’t do business that way. I don’t mean not negotiate a large deal I mean they would want to negotiate my hourly rate for a 1 hr job. I don’t think it should take 15 minutes to get a 1 hr job on a retail once type of transaction. For get that.

    I don’t mind sending some customers to my competitors particularly when I know they are going to be a king sized pain in the ass.

  • Pete S. says:

    This was a good article for tips. I experienced this myself with my first business client. The first day I was told of our future partnership, and they were expanding the business. I ended up being hassled about pricing and dicounted this particular clients rate for future visits. I was presented with a project to install a NAS backup system, and I made the mistake of offering to find him a deal on one because he was a price concise customer. I showed him a good deal and he did not purchase it in time, because he had to consult wit his other IT guy (His associates brother). He expected me to find a similar deal in price, but it ended up turning into over two months of searching for a similar price until I told him I would hve to charge market value. He had me consult with his IT guy on how the system needed to be set up using his ideas. I have not completed this project and I do not work with this customer any more. It was a very good article because I feel like it related to my past situation perfectly. Great Tips!

  • Brent Simpson says:

    Nice article, I have had a few customers like this as well. When working for another company about 6 years ago we had a very wealthy woman who lived on Sanibel Island. She had an 8 bedroom house a theater room, her own private beach 2 Ferrari’s the whole nine. She was always needing work to be done as a priority over others. She always paid the premium price for having us drop all other customers and work on her machines. She had at last count 15 machines in her home and something always needed attention. She got so pushy and so demanding that even though she was the best client that shop had, the owner had to refer her to someone else. It wasn’t just an issue with her snobbishness, it was also her demanding i need it now cause I’m rich attitude. So yes they come in all shapes and sizes not from the poorest demanding it all for free to the richest demanding all your time.

  • Howard Rubin in Brazil says:

    Had a client that I walked out on. Wealthy family, both adults were yniversity educators. Husband with an office on the first floor, wife had her office on the third floor, daughter was on the second, all connected by a wired network and a Windows Workgroup. I’d fix problems for one and get yelled at by the other why I changed things! The daughter in the middle was always trying ways to convince me to change her machine to Japanese language. It was a nut house!

  • Matt says:

    I’ve learned this the hard way.

    I break the rule of hoping next time will be better. Unless things are REALLY bad, I usually give my customers a 2nd chance. One customer in particular often negotiated a lower price, which was frustrating because of the longer drive to her house, on top of her keeping me due to her talking and also introducing additional problems while I was there.

    Another customer continuously tried to tell me how to do my work. If he/she used to be in the IT business then I could understand. But not from a guy who designed furniture…

    Learning to let go of customers is vital to not only your business, but your overall sanity.

  • Eric Beadle says:

    This article is a very good article. Thank you once again.
    There has been one time so far where I decided to let go of the client. I finished out the job, the customer was satisfied. I was not. Here is why.

    The client set up the time, it was noted he needed his data ASAP. Me and my networking friend showed at the clients business location.
    He stated he had his clients coming in within ten minutes, he did not have time to go over paperwork “whatever needed to be done, get it done and do it”. This made me very very hesitant knowing this was not going to go well. Come to find out this mans seagate external drive had been several failing due to the platter heads of stopping during its spindle.

    Me and my friend told him the cost of what it would take to replace the said drive since it was a failing. Come to find out seagates cloud external hard drives are not that easy to set up with all operating systems. After trying this for a few hours, we went back and covered the cost of a western digital. Havin already taking a loss due to the amount of driving. I had told the client, that unfortanatly we had to go with another external hard drive that was more than the seagate, but we assured him it was a much better purchase for the long run.

    He was happy to get his data back, as for closing the deal. This much older, business owner had stated it was a bad idea to raise the price without consulting him.

    I have not contacted him since with a follow up, and he has yet to contact me. That is one client I am glad that I did not take on. It would of been great to have a business client in my pocket, however, it would not have been the right client to tech relationship if you ask me.

    As Bryce says, do be careful who you choose to keep on, and who to keep off. The warning signs are there. We are trained to know what we know, to do what we do best. To have the “expert” client come in and state “the other techs” did this and this.. IT does make the job uneasy.

  • Manoj says:

    You need to go to TMO and ask. Those websites are not alywas correct and TMO will have the latest rates. The rates are not just based on your pay grade, but also where you are going and those rates change based on the ability of the receiving area to handle shipments. For instance, if you were going to Misawa, Japan, you would not get anywhere near your max allowance. Even a family’s allowance is cut in half from what is on the charts on those websites. Also, since you are going overseas to overseas, your allowance is different. Even leaving Osan is different since you were there unaccompanied. Like I said, go to TMO and get the latest.