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Four Characteristics of Bad Customers: What Every Business Manager Should Know

Business managers should be aware of these four common traits of bad customers.

Is the old adage “the customer is always right”— always right? For many small businesses, that answer is often “no” as bad customers can drain time, staff, and money and harm the company’s reputation. However, there is a difference between a challenging client and a bad client, say small business experts.1

A challenging client can push you to do your best work, but overall they respect you, your service, your expertise, and your team. On the other hand, a bad client is one who is disrespectful, rude, and often abusive to you or your team.

Four Characteristics of Bad Customers: What Every Business Manager Should Know

Four Warning Signs of Bad Customers

So what are some red-flag behaviors to be on the lookout for? Small business and customer success experts say that the following four behaviors are some of the common ones associated with potentially nightmarish customers. 2, 3, 4

  1. Trying to get extra or discounted services beyond the agreed-upon scope of project. Bad news customers or clients will try to go beyond the agreed-upon services and ask for special favors, such as discounts and free resources. They often want to renegotiate agreed-upon terms and can seem impossible to please.
  2. Not knowing what they want. Some customers are reluctant to be clear on what they want and frequently change their mind, meaning you have to adjust to their new requirements constantly. Dealing with these issues takes away time that you could be using for your other clients.
  3. Refusing to follow your procedures. Bad customers often want you to make exceptions to your procedures and structures. If you’re making exceptions for your proven procedures that have worked well for customers, not only will this eat up time and resources, but it could affect the quality of the product and/or service that you deliver.
  4. Not viewing you as a partner. Depending on the type of business you have, if a customer views your work together as a transaction where they expect to tell you what to do and ignore your advice and recommendations as opposed to working together in a mutually respectful partnership, there might be trouble ahead. The best customer experiences happen when customers value your expertise and view you as a partner in their success.

How to Weed Out Bad Customers

One of the hallmarks of outstanding customer service efforts are standards and systems that can be replicated and scaled for different industries or regions. Such an approach requires having a clear definition of the type of clients who usually get the most from your products and/or services and are easy to work with. When customers or clients don’t fit that profile, it can be hard to have a good customer experience and outcome. It’s best to focus on your best customers.4

To make sure that clear goals and fair expectations are there from the beginning, follow these three guidelines, which can help ensure that customers are paying a fair price and using your services and/or products in the right way 4:

  • Develop different service levels so that clients that need a lot of attention can pay more to get more time with you or your team.
  • Create clear instructions for how the customer can get help, and establish a regular meeting time to get status updates so that necessary changes can be made to make progress.
  • Inform clients during the initial sales process about what to realistically expect from purchasing the service and/or product.

How an MBA Degree Can Help

Managing challenging customers is one of the many skills top business managers and small business owners must master. Many of the other skills business managers need to operate a successful small business can be sharpened by earning a business administration degree, such as an MBA online. Pursuing an online business degree from an accredited university lets you develop important skills needed to create effective procedures and systems to filter out bad customers and attract ideal ones. Completing an online MBA program can equip you to work through complex business and customer service issues that companies face on a daily basis.

If you're concerned about the time it would take to earn a business administration master’s, the online management degree option can be the best online graduate degree program choice for you. Unlike earning a Master of Business Administration through a traditional business degree program, pursuing an MBA degree online can allow you to complete the majority of your studies at your convenience. Plus, Walden University’s MBA program is offered in two learning formats. The course-based format is great for students who prefer an instructor-led approach to learning. For those who are looking for a custom-paced approach that allows you to potentially speed your progress based on prior knowledge and experience, Walden’s competency-based MBA program might be a good degree option to consider.

Earning a Walden University online MBA can also help you transform management experiences with challenging customers into learning opportunities that can help your company thrive.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,