A Customer Service Scenario I Love To Hate

rockhardplaceHere’s a scenario I have faced in customer service more times than I care to.  A customer fails to pay their bill, their account gets suspended, they badmouth us either on social media or directly to our CEO, and then they string us along in paying their balance off because they essentially do not have the money to pay for service.  Such customers consume significant amounts of company time and resources on a seemingly simple issue.

As a customer service leader, I want my team to spend their valuable time and energy helping customers who intend to pay us better understand and use our service.  And yet here we are taking calls from customers aiming to see how little they can pay and still maintain active service.


Don’t even get me started on the excuses I’ve heard over the years:

“If you suspend my service, my business will be crippled and I won’t have money to pay you.”

“I promise I’ll pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today” (Ok, that one is from Popeye)

“My customers are late in paying me.  Once they pay me, I’ll pay you.”

“We are going through bankruptcy right now and you are required to keep my account active by federal bankruptcy protection law.” (What????)

The list goes on and on.  Feel free to share some of the lines you’ve heard while we’re on that topic.

Now, I am also fascinated by the perspective from different positions within the company.

The Frontline Rep: These folks are in the most difficult spot.  They have to spend the time dealing with these people.  While they may quickly and accurately identify many of these customers as bottom feeders, they aren’t exactly in the position to be hanging up on them either.  They are forced to listen to the sob story and figure out where to draw the line.  For the relational CSR who majors in empathy, they may feel inclined to side too much on the customer’s side and less on the side of the company .

The Manager/Supervisor: These folks want to push to get the customer to pay just enough but not push so much that the customer will ask to speak with them.  They have the added pressure of hearing from upper management when they find out the customer service staff is giving service to non-paying customers.  It’s magical in the middle!

The C-suite: The last thing upper management wants is negative PR.  It doesn’t matter whether the customer is paying or not, if they are going to plaster negativity about your brand on Facebook, they may not be worth the trouble.  When I talk about negative PR, I’m not terribly afraid of the person that signed up on Twitter yesterday specifically so they could badmouth us.  Sorry, but the fact that they’ve only sent two tweets and have a Klout score of seven is a dead giveaway.  I exaggerate a bit because the C-suite understands that the company cannot stay in business unless we get paid.

The Grand Solution…

Ha! Tricked you.  I don’t have a grand solution for this.  I have been walking this tight rope for my entire career both from the frontline and the management perspective.  It truly is a balancing act.  In some cases, you can build a beneficial relationship with the customer and get them into a plan they can truly afford.  Other customers will string you along indefinitely.  This is truly a scenario I will always love to hate.  Now if you have the grand solution, do share.  I’m all ears!


Share this post:


  • Wow…tough spot. I guess although I am a Nice Guy, it’s “No pay, no play.” But I try to deal with each on an individual basis. This is where company policies are hard to have in black and white because you are dealing with me. The key is in empowering your front line to make decisions without spending too much time dealing with management. Touch choices, grey blog again.

    • Jeremy Watkin

      Well said, Doug! Definitely the team has to feel empowered and in general, they are very good at weeding out the one-time cases from the abusers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *