21 July 2016 | 119 Comments
In a surprising move 9 years ago, Sprint fired more than 1,000 of their customers. They contacted those customers to say that their contracts would expire in a few months, and they would need to find another mobile provider.
Why would a company “fire” their customers? Aren’t customers how companies stay in business?
Here’s what Sprint revealed: Those 1,000 customers were calling Sprint’s customer service line about 40,000 times a month. That’s an average of 480 calls per person each year!
Sprint realized that by spending such a huge amount of time on those customers–customers who, it seemed, were asking the same questions over and over and were never going to be satisfied with the answers–their customer service team was neglecting their other customers. Plus, if you’re paying customer service reps to answer 40 calls a month from the same person, you’re losing a lot of money on that customer.
I think they made the right decision.
I never want to fire a customer. I get no joy from it, nor do I want customers to fear being “fired.” I love the vast majority of my customers, even those who are bluntly critical. These are extreme edge cases, the 0.01% that get in the way of me being at my best for the other 99.99%.
Just to be clear what “firing a customer” means for a company like Stonemaier Games, it usually equates to me removing the customer from our e-newsletter list. There’s really nothing to stop anyone from backing one of my Kickstarter projects. At best, after the project is over, I can refund their pledge, removing them as a backer. That’s exceptionally rare.
Here are the types of things that will motivate me to “fire” you (or, as a commenter called it, “customer stratification”):
- If you’re racist, sexist, bigoted, or a complete jerk to me or other backers. I once got the nastiest message from a backer in central Europe accusing me of being an ignorant American and making his shipping fee higher than backers in western Europe (which, of course, is simply how courier rates in Europe are priced). It was actually so nasty and bigoted that I reported it to Kickstarter.
- If you’re unreasonably picky to a costly extreme. I got a message from a Scythe backer recently who asked for a replacement box. To the right you can see a photo of the “damage,” the slightest wrinkle on one of the corners. I wrote him back to say that at best we could offer him a $15 refund, and he replied to say that $50 would be more appropriate. $50! That was a clear signal to me that there was too big of a gap between our perspectives.
- If you’re a troll. If you frequently troll forums to shout about how you hate things (particularly–but not limited to–my games), well, you can do that all you want. I believe in free speech. But if that’s the type of thing that makes you feel good about yourself, you’re not a good fit for Stonemaier Games.
There’s one more type of customer who simply isn’t prudent for me to retain. This is the expensively negligent customer.
Let’s say that you run a Kickstarter campaign for an expensive, heavy game. You offer a money-back guarantee, with the intent being that if backers have financial hardship or if they play the game and don’t like it, they can send it back for a full refund (including shipping both ways). Over the next 7 months, you hear from about a dozen backers who ask for refunds, and of course you provide them.
Finally you start fulfilling rewards. One US backers receives his game, and as soon as he receives it, he emails you to say he wants to return it for a refund. You oblige, of course. When it arrives at your office, you’re surprised to find that it’s an unopened, mint-condition Collector’s Edition.
You’re not mad at the customer. After all, even with the $35 total shipping costs to and from that backer, you can still sell the game at a profit. But knowing what you do about this customer–that they needlessly cost you $35 on a game they could have just cancelled before you shipped it–is it prudent for you to sell more games to that customer in the future?
(and yes, I’m talking about Scythe)
What do you think about this concept? I figure it might be offputting to some people, especially coming from someone who proclaims to be inclusive, not exclusive. But sometimes I’ve had to draw a line, and this is where I draw it.