Courtesy navigation

Divorcing your customers

Divorcing your customers

August 02, 2011 by Jonathan Clark

Scrabble letters spelling divorceSorry, we are not prepared to serve you...

Not something you hear often at the moment. But it’s coming.

Several things struck me recently and they were all brought about by the magnificent example of the Massachusetts sisters, as reported by Helen Edwards at Passionbrand earlier this year. In essence, two sisters had returned an “incredible amount of items” through the store’s generous returns policy. The company, Value City Department Stores, simply could not afford to deal with them anymore, so the retailer drew the relationship to an end. “Given your history of excessive returns and chronic unhappiness with our service we have decided that this is the best way of avoiding any further problems with you.”

Now this is unusual, but for how much longer? 

When you consider most aspects of our lives, we need a lot of good behaviour to get by. If I misbehave on an aeroplane then the airlines share information on me and I won’t be able to fly. If I can’t get car insurance I can’t drive, as insurers share information. Want a mortgage? You’d better hope your credit score is good, they’ll look. Renting: well, landlords now have a site where “problem” tenants are logged. How long will it be before someone sets up an “individual human behavioural log monitor thing”? All of our past misdemeanours, late payments and broken promises, all in one place. Ouch.

But for the most part at the moment, the customer is still king. And when companies get things wrong, they find their failures will be plastered over social media sites. Not good.

So why would a brand want to divorce a customer? Some things are obvious. If the company was, frankly, being taken for a ride – such as in the case of the sisters – then it makes perfect sense to cut its losses.

But protecting brand value in the longer term is also a motivator. After all, look at what it has cost Burberry in time and money to reposition the brand and shake off the chavs and football hooligans who’d ruined its premium image. Right now Cyprus is attempting to reposition itself as an upmarket family resort, playing down the Ayia Napa image of a party capital. You could argue both Cyprus and Burberry have taken action to “divorce” customers who threaten future brand value. It has certainly paid off for Burberry.

So which customers will be refused service next? I believe it’s not a long way off when serial “unfair” complainers and bloggers will find themselves with fewer and fewer choices of product and service. And if they do find someone who will “take them and their custom” they will pay a big premium. Financial Services already has this one covered! Big APRs for customers with poor credit histories.

So that’s my point. Many companies really are offering great service and value, and are really on top of customer relationships. I think, as customers, we all need to start considering how we deal with our selected favourite suppliers and companies. We really do need to start to value them more.

It will not be long before our track record is scrutinised in huge detail, and yes, we may get the call that says our custom is not wanted. How’s that going to feel?

Jonathan Clark is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and the executive chairman of Bright Blue Day.

Read more about problem customers in our article on An Awkward Customer.

Need to know more about dealing with complaints? Read Five ways to solve customer problems and Golden rules of complaints handling.


Hudson Accountants's picture

80% of your hassle probably comes from 20% of your customers. Identify these and your life will be much happier.

Rich Brady's picture

We've done this a few times ourselves. It's easy on eBay as you can block buyers by their user ID.

The reason for doing it will vary, but generally it's customers that take up time for little or no reward. Unrealistic lead times or asking for massive discounts.

We often receive emails from customers that claim to want 200 of a certain product; then after a dozen of emails want a couple of samples at the same price that you quoted for the bulk order for the time being.

We're quite lucky that as an Army Surplus retailer,, we're quite niche, that means these time wasters need us more than we need them.

Edit 11/08/11:

Another one bites the dust... I've just blocked an eBay customer after they returned a pair of Camo Trousers to us. Their reason? It had a crease ironed down the front of the legs.

A crease that could easily have been ironed out, but what really frustrates us is that they paid £5.00 (£9 total with recorded delivery) for these trousers in an auction, they got an absolute bargin but claim that the trousers are not as described...

Add a comment

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <p>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Links to specified hosts will have a rel="nofollow" added to them.

When you click 'Register' to create a new account, you accept our terms of service and privacy policy