As customer experience professionals we often advocate for “customer rights.” I find it helpful to think of myself as protecting my customers from my company.  But make no mistake – advocating often is not the same as advocating always.  When should we stop advocating for the customer?


Here’s one example.  Imagine you own and operate a newsstand near Times Square in New York City.  A man stops by, opens a package of gum, puts one in his mouth and walks away.  This is theft and is against the law.  As an owner you are within your rights to press charges and claim damages.

Reading this example your reaction may well be “That sounds like a lot of work for gum.  Maybe it’s smarter to just forget about it.”  What if you owned a car dealership and someone broke into a car and drove it off the lot?  Is it still smarter to forget about it?

Examples like this happen each day in business and for some reason customer experience professionals mistakenly (blindly?) continue to advocate for the customer.

This scenario happened to me recently.  A customer failed to meet their payment obligations on time despite helpful reminders.  Various constituents provided rationales for why we should continue to advocate for the customer and essentially “forget about it.” Here are the WORST arguments I heard:

  • From Customers: “As a valued partner we hope your company will continue to support us.”  (Actual example.)  This is a weak argument because “valued partners” pay on time.  If a customer chooses not to pay, it seems reasonable that I would choose to stop supporting them.
  • From Salespeople: “If we push this customer too hard they will stop buying from us and go to our competitors instead.”  This is a weak argument also.  If a customer doesn’t pay we should encourage them to go to the competition –we don’t want or need these customers.

So when should you stop advocating on behalf of the customer?  I group the reasons below into the broad category of “damages the company.”  The criteria I recommend:

  • High opportunity cost – if your company can serve other [paying] customers more effectively by stopping support for a small number of others, stop advocating. Free support is not an option.
  • History of “bad behavior” – it makes sense to assume positive intent or honest mistakes by customers – we all make mistakes.  But if your customer has a history of late payment or abusing your goodwill, stop advocating.
  • Abusive to employees – if you have a customer who refuses to treat your employees with respect, stop advocating.  I consider this criteria critical because of the linkage between employees, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

The pivot point is that it isn’t worth your time to advocate for (or support or sell to) customers who don’t pay.  Losing customers who don’t pay is “addition by subtraction.” 


The rest of the story… Ultimately we suspended service.  We were willing to sacrifice (if that is indeed the right word) customers who don’t or won’t pay in order to serve those that do.  Shortly after we suspended service, we were paid.  If your products and services are indeed valuable, customers will pay. If you don’t take a firm stance your inaction reinforces the notion that your products are worthless and you set a dangerous precedent for your business.

When to Stop Advocating for the Customer
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6 thoughts on “When to Stop Advocating for the Customer

  • 19 August 2015 at 09:25

    Well written and excellent advice. I usually look at this in terms of ‘how much do I want to invest in this customer?” There have been times when I’ve had to extract away from a customer for some of the very reasons you mention above. Thank you for this article Andy.

  • 22 April 2016 at 17:51

    This is why I love the collaborative economy. There are lessons for all businesses.

    A decade ago eBay started something amazing. For the first time in my life my ‘reputation’ as both a vendor AND as a customer mattered.

    Imagine, for a second, an airline that only allowed passengers with a 98%+ rating from flight crew and fellow passengers. I want to be on that flight.

    Airlines are easy targets these days but I think that the biggest reason is actually fellow passengers and not the airlines at all. Are some of their people a little grumpy at times? Of course. If I had to deal with that they do every day I would be as well.

    The idea that all customers are equal or that the size of their orders are the only things that matter is the undoing of many businesses.

    Great food for thought.

    • 24 April 2016 at 18:08

      What an interesting idea! Only allowing customers to book flights who have a 98% favorable rating from their co-passengers. I love it. On that flight what type of passengers do you think would be unable to get a ticket? And what type of behavior would earn a 98% favorable rating?

      • 25 April 2016 at 12:05

        If it were just customers alone I’m not sure what that would look like. It’s specifically why I included flight crew.

        Your question reminds me of scene from Men in Black talking about the wisdom of the crowd. “A person can be smart, but people are stupid.” Just look at the boat that let the crowd pick its name – Boaty McBoatface.

        Unfortunately there are many who enjoy seeing fellow passengers take shots at airline folks. In a passenger only rated world a jerks stock could rise quickly. The hero who stuck it to the evil airline.

        Recently a professional surfer (professional – not some weekend warrior) posted a story of how evil airline de jour had broken his surfboard after charging him an obscene amount for checking it. I’m not sure how you imagine what goes on with luggage on airplanes but I would never wrap a seven foot piece of Styrofoam in bubble wrap and expect it to come out whole on the other side. They are built to move people not freight. If you have something precious you package it accordingly. (not the story I was looking for but basically the same idea. Stick a piece of foam in a thin cover, slap a fragile label on it then get ready to sue. Oh forgive me ‘weigh options.’

        I think that there would be great value in a mechanism that restored trust and civility to air travel similar to what AirBnB has done for accommodations or Uber for rides. I just don’t know any pilots with a little extra room lying around on their planes.

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