3 Ways to Say “No” to a Bad Customer

In contrary to the famous motto, customers aren’t always right. Though keeping customers happy and expanding your customer base is a vital part of any successful business, there may be some customers that test your ability to provide positive customer service.

We often forget that as business owners, we can choose to keep or distance ourselves from our customers. Keep the good ones and reduce the number of customers who have a negative impact on your life as soon as possible, because it can pay to be selective.

Why It Pays to Be Selective

Why should you reduce your customer base? Because customers, whether they are verbally abusive or just an inefficient use of your energy, can be bad for any business. Focusing on keeping their business can be an inefficient use of your time and resources, or may simply not fit your business’ core values.

Here are three types of customers who can have a negative impact on your business, and ways to say, “No” to them.

1. The Unrealistic Customer

These customers can be identified by their unnecessary demands for your time, impossible requests, an expectation of extra products or services, or threats to spread bad reviews about your business if their demands are not met.

How to Say No

As soon as things get out of hand, the best thing to do is to reset your customer’s expectations. It’s never easy, but you need to put the customer back on track politely and professionally. If the situation cannot be resolved, then it may be the right time to let them go.

2. The Foul Mouthed Customer

These customers use a lot of profanity, whether it is to emphasize their point or to be verbally abusive, which can be demoralizing, reduces productivity and has a negative impact on your employees’ work culture.

How to Say No

As Jonathan Schneider, Founder of Road Holland Cycling Apparel, puts it, “Angry customers would want you to join the anger-fest. They’d want you to fight back and lose it, and the only way to get through that situation is to remain calm.”

Here are three steps to stop a cursing customer:

  1. Acknowledge: Let the customer know that you understand what he or she is going through. A simple, “I can sense that you’re angry,” or, “I understand how frustrating this is for you,” may be enough to stop their unwelcome behaviour.
  2. Warn: Tell the customer, as calmly and as graceful as you can, that you aren’t comfortable with their behavior, and you have to ask him or her to call back again if the profanity doesn’t stop.
  1. Drop it: If the cursing continues, hang up and document what happened. This documentation may be useful for legal or business purposes.

3. The Disrespectful Customer

This is the easiest unwelcome customer to identify. It can just take one action, be it a phone call or an email, to know you are working with a disrespectful or rude customer. Similar to foul mouthed customers, disrespectful customers can have a negative impact on retention, productivity and engagement, and are harmful to the health and wellbeing of you and your team, among other negative consequences for your business.

Disrespectful actions can include:

  • Making homophobic, racist, sexist or otherwise hateful remarks
  • Insults and bullying
  • Raised voice

How to Say No

The general rule of thumb to dealing with disrespectful customers is to be courteous and to disarm any escalating situation as calmly and professionally as possible.


Even when dealing with customers that have a negative impact on you, your employees and your business, it’s also important to remember that customers get to complain about businesses, not the other way around.

Choosing your words and actions carefully can pay off, and your seemingly unwelcome customers may surprise you in how well they respond to your professional courtesy and assertiveness.

However, above all else, never be afraid to stand up for yourself and your employees in the face of hurtful, disrespectful or abusive customers.

Learn More

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