How to Know When it’s Time to Part Ways With a Customer or Client

Is it possible that the customer isn't always right? Despite your best efforts, there may be times when it's best to part ways with a customer or client. Make it as painless as possible with these tips.

Is it possible that the customer isn’t always right? Despite your best efforts, there may be times when it’s best to part ways with a customer or client. Make it as painless as possible with these tips.

By Tim Dimoff

As a small business, you rely on your customers or clients to survive. They are the lifeline of your business. You appreciate the projects and the business they give you, the money you earn from doing business with them, and even the friendship you may have developed. 

But sometimes they can become more of a problem than an asset. They may become a nightmare to work with—perhaps they have stopped paying on time or are causing problems with your staff. Maybe they have unrealistic demands or keep adding on to the project but are unwilling to pay more. Maybe they are unresponsive or unsupportive of your work. 

That’s when it may be time to consider firing them.

But, can you really fire a client or customer? The short answer is yes, you can. However, it is crucial to first make sure you have exhausted all other solutions and explored any potential remedies to the problem. It is always best to work things out when possible. 

A working relationship is kind of like a marriage. You have invested time, energy, and money into this relationship. It’s important to take the necessary time and effort to ensure ending the relationship is the right thing to do—and that is it what you want to do.

To begin this process, start by taking full stock of the situation and clearly identifying the problems. Are you losing money on them? Are you losing staff because of them? Why and how?

Also try to look at the situation objectively and make sure your ego or your need to make money is not getting in your way. 

Then, take some time to talk to the customer or client and listen to what they have to say. Clearly assess the situation to determine if you can work out the challenges and problems. Then make your decision with a clear head and a clear conscious.

However, it may be that a customer or client has behaved inappropriately with you or your staff. These types of situations are definitely more cut-and-dry—and you shouldn’t hesitate to fire them immediately. This includes sexual or any other form of harassment. 

If you decide that the time has come to fire a customer or client, here are some tips to ensure the smoothest process possible:

• Be honest and clear about the problems or the situation 
• Never blame them or intentionally offend them. Blame the particular circumstances if necessary—this can include personal circumstances or a change in business direction
• Finish any outstanding projects or services to the best of your ability
• Create a final task list for both you and the client
• Suggest a replacement if you can
• End the working relationships in person or by phone or letter—not in email

Firing a client or customer is never easy or preferred. It’s almost always a tough choice to make. However, if it needs to be done, doing it quickly and the right way will help ease the situation for both of you.

Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at


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