When to fire a customerJeffrey Dobkinexcessive phone callers, service call hogs, low price hunters Some customers are good, some are their evil twins. Every customer has to be profitable to be maintained. Before they wreck havoc in your sales, delivery and accounting departments, here are some suggestions. Keep your top 20 percent grossing customers. Go on, kiss their heinies and let them walk all over you. They're worth saving, like a good marriage or leftover lasagna. The lowest grossing 20 percent in sales volume on the other hand, well, can them. Go on, kick them out! Das boot. You don't need that kind of aggravation. If these accounts can't buy that one chair that you've had on sale in your showroom for the past three months and pay list, they shouldn't get the quality service your sales rep shows them by stopping in once a year. With that kind of time commitment on your part, they should be making significant purchases every week. Fire them; any questions? Break the other 60 percent of your accounts into groups and deal with them accordingly: -Excessive phone callers. Is one of your account reps constantly listening to their stories of, "Oh, you promised these dozen workstations would be here in February, I've had 12 people working in the lobby, the kitchen and the bathroom since December and now it's May," and other tales of woe? Hey, kick them out. You don't need accounts of whiners like that; they're probably complaining to everyone else who would listen: state commissioners, the attorney general, etc. Just ignore them, send them a partial refund citing "restocking charges" and tell them it was the manufacturer, not you, who is shipping orders late. Next time, remember to actually get invoices processed. Hey, mistakes happen and you don't complain like that, do you? -Service call hogs. You know the ones: "The chair is missing one of the rollers." And "The table only has three legs." Frankly, I've heard fewer complaints from 2-year-olds with heat rash. Simply tell them your service technicians are busy on important service calls then take a tip from the telephone companies: put them into a recorded message loop that tells them that their call is being recorded to give them better service, and their request for help has been put in queue in the order in which it has been received. Then put them on hold. Play a tape of audio ads of how great your service is and finally blow them off to your Web site to search for anything they need. Eventually, they'll hang up. Do this enough times and they won't bother you anymore with these silly service requests. -Low price hunters. Everyone likes a good price, but theses guys are just complainers. "Aw, come on; bring down that cost of a box of paper clips!" Ok, save them five percent, but they've got to understand they'll have to sign a contract, just like the cell phone companies make you do - two years or it's $300 to opt-out early. Hey, they get away with it, don't they? And no one complains. And don't forget the upgrade fee for cell phones, the order cancellation fee for Web stores, order processing fee at ticket agencies, additional dealer profit for car dealers, truck roll fee for cable TV companies, additional fuel surcharge for delivery services and line recovery fee charges for phone companies. You're in good company, so there's no reason that additional charges shouldn't apply to your products as well. Your customers will just have to understand that you can bring down the cost of the desk to $10 over list on request, but they'll have to pay up front, and since there's such a great demand for this model, they'll have to wait and you're not sure when it will be delivered. Stop in any new car showroom and take notes on this philosophy. It's just too bad you don't have a monopoly like the cable TV companies. You could just keep raising your rates, cutting your programming and diminishing your service. ("Yes, we'll be there either Wednesday, Thursday or Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. and someone will need to be there.") Just think; if you had this kind of monopoly, you could tell them all to kiss off and find another provider, even though you know none exists. So like my grandpapa used to say, "Fire the pests, exploit the rest!" Rest in peace, Grandpapa, rest in peace. Jeff Dobkin is an author, speaker and marketing consultant with more than 25 years of experience in direct response copywriting. He also analyzes direct marketing packages, ads, catalogs and campaigns. He may be reached at (610) 642-1000 or visit www.dobkin.com.