March 2015
Volume 6, Issue 3

Breaking Up Is Tough Business

When is it OK to fire a customer?

By Deborah Curson-Vieira

A dentist sent a prescription for an orthodontic appliance to a laboratory that he had not previously used. To the laboratory, the prescription looked straightforward. But because the client was new, the lead technician called to discuss the case. The practitioner was unavailable. After several attempts to reach him, the technician decided to go forward with the case in order to meet the delivery date.

Once the case was delivered, the client expressed dissatisfaction with the result. The technician discussed the prescription with him on the phone and explained the process the laboratory used to deliver the case. The dentist noted that he had another appliance in his office that met his specifications. The technician asked if he would email pictures of that appliance so the laboratory could remake the case to meet his needs. The dentist could not send the pictures, so the laboratory account manager set up a meeting to take the pictures and discuss the appliance.

At the agreed-upon time, the account manager brought lunch for the dentist and his team. Once in the office, the dentist told the account manager that he had called in another laboratory and she would have to wait. The other laboratory representative arrived at the office. After a brief discussion, it was apparent that he had been called in at last minute and was unsure of the topic of the meeting.

While the account manager waited for the dentist and laboratory representative to conclude their meeting, she asked the assistant if she could take pictures of the appliance in question. The assistant denied her request. After the other laboratory representative left, the dentist indicated to the account representative that he had what he needed and refused to speak with her. The account manager thanked the dentist and left the lunch at the front desk. A few days later, the laboratory received another new case from the same client. The prescription did not include pictures or additional instructions.

What Would You Do?

While the above story is rare, challenges with clients and prospective clients commonly occur. Most situations can be diffused with high levels of communication, integrity, and good customer care. But, what do you do when even your best technician or customer service representative can’t establish a working relationship with an office or dentist?

Is it ever a good idea to turn down business? No one likes to say no to a customer or new business. New customers are the foundation on which a successful laboratory is built. However, you must ask yourself whether the customer is an asset and if the business you will receive will be worth your resources.

Although the customer may always be right, the customer is not always a right fit for your business. While firing a customer is uncommon, you should recognize the telltale signs that it is necessary:

The customer demands large amounts of valuable resources and time. Do you have certain customers who consume a disproportionate amount of your time for the profit that they generate? If you are spending significant time and resources coaching the dentist's office staff and you are not seeing a difference in the quality of work being sent in, it may be time to part ways.

The customer has unreasonable expectations. If it becomes clear that your products or services are not a good fit, it’s time to let go. For example, a dentist may insist on full-contour zirconia for crowns but also wants them to be esthetic and have a high level of translucency. Or, an office asks for rush cases or special delivery every time. If you are not able to reset the expectations, you have to ask yourself if your business is the right fit for the customer’s needs.

The customer is disrespectful to you or your team. No one deserves to be treated poorly. If a customer becomes aggressive, calmly ask him or her how you can resolve the issue. If the request is unreasonable, let him or her know you aren’t able to do as requested, but indicate what you can do. If the disrespectful behavior occurs frequently, it is in your best interest to end the relationship.

Time to Walk Away

Firing a customer can be tricky and needs to be handled with tact and professionalism. Once the decision to walk away from a customer is made, communicate with that person. Talk about the issues; be accountable, fair, and polite.

This conversation can be framed several ways. One is to focus the conversation on the customer’s needs and expectations. Relate that you want what is best for the customer and your business, but the laboratory is unable to meet these needs at this time. Another approach is to say you no longer offer the services that the client requires without charging an additional fee. For example, you can no longer provide the rush service requested for every case. After a specific date, you will need to charge a rush fee.


No one likes to lose a customer, especially after you’ve worked so hard to earn his or her business. The idea of cutting that person loose may seem counter-intuitive. But ask yourself this: What’s the cost of keeping that client? Is the business worth the time, resources, and stress? Sometimes letting that person go is the best solution.

Deborah Curson-Vieira is the marketing and communications manager for Dental Prosthetic Services in Cedar Rapids, IA.

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