Last month, I ran across an article stating that companies should fire bad customers:

Here in our laboratory informatics industry, we often know which LIMS customers are bad to work with, which ELN customers should be avoided, and which customers will never settle on a piece of software and implement, at all. This is not as true regarding smaller or even the medium-sized customers, but the large customers are fairly well-known. Their projects have so many people come through them that’s it’s usually not long before most people in the industry know how well or how poorly a customer is handling their project.

Should We “Out” the Bad Customers?
In the example in the article link I gave, where they mention a print shop firing a bad customer, a print shop probably has no NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with their customers. If they want to “out” that customer by posting their bad experiences to the world so that other print shops can be forewarned, that is possibly an option. The print shop might even trust their employees to be responsible-enough to make appropriate posts about customers they have bad experiences with. I have a difficult time seeing that taking place in our industry.

Of course, the first problem is the NDA. For most customers, it is not allowed to go around talking about what’s going on with their project. It might be allowed to discuss it within the project, but it’s usually the case that team members are not supposed to speak of it outside the project. The key words are “not supposed to.” People tend to be loose-lipped. Hence, the old phrase “loose lips sink ships.” Unlike wartime efforts, most people take this much less seriously. Even if the project leaders understand and commit to keep mum about the project, this message almost never gets to the actual team members, and they still might not take it seriously, even if it did.

When people are stressed, they want to vent. When their employer or customer won’t listen, they’ll find an outlet, somewhere. They usually vent to people they know, but those people aren’t always on the same project or with the same company. Once they vent, those project stories make the rounds of the industry. If more than one person is venting, those stories get around quite quickly.

I will tell you that there have been projects through the years that I purposely avoided having heard that they were, in our industry parlance, “nuts.” You will take care to notice that I can’t have heard that because I was on that project team if I didn’t get involved with the project. Nor could I have heard it from my other employees. My point is that people in the industry talk to each other, regardless. Most of us know most of the rest of us from somewhere, so these stories easily get around.

Even when there is no NDA with a customer, most customers, good or bad, tend to like their privacy. Many of them don’t want their name flung around the industry. Of course, it does depend what the context is. If I were about to say “customer x is the greatest customer in the world, you should work for them for free, that’s how great they are” then I think that almost any customer would be fine having their name thrown-around like that. Not all of them would, though.

In addition, some of this is our personal opinion. There are some projects that are fairly universally despised because they are so abysmal. However, there are also customers that some people love to work with and others just can’t stand. This is partly because people have different work styles and what is great to one person is terrible to another. This is much different from those projects that are truly going south and/or treating everyone quite badly.

I doubt anyone will start a public rating of the customers, partly because they don’t want to be sued, partly because they respect the privacy of the customer, and partly because they don’t care if other companies have the same problems. But just because we don’t use a public tool to rate customers doesn’t mean it doesn’t take place – it’s just not in writing.

But it’s a warning to customers, especially the large ones, that people outside do know what’s going on regarding your project. If you find that an embarrassing thought, then work to make your project better. Make it your New Year’s resolution and make it one you actually keep.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises