How to break up with a client professionally

Ending a relationship with a client is always challenging, no matter the circumstances. This can be an especially difficult decision to make if you’re a small business just getting started or struggling to hit revenue goals.

Generally, we should be willing to do whatever it takes to keep customers happy. But when a client becomes so difficult to work with that it negatively impacts your (team’s) mental health, morale, or the company’s bottom line, it might be time to part ways.

Breaking up with a client is the process of ending a business relationship that isn’t working either for the client or the business. It means acknowledging the problems the customer brings to the business and being willing to sacrifice the revenue they provide for the long-term health and success of the business. 

In this article, we outline how to break up with a customer and provide actionable tips for communicating your decision.

Why and when should you consider breaking up with a customer?

When you get a new client, you aspire for it to be a thriving relationship—one where they’re easy to work with, treat you and your team with respect, and value the work you do. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes the relationship has gone too far south and it’s time to cut ties. 

There are often signs to end the relationship with a client. Here are some reasons you should consider breaking up with a customer.

The customer is not cooperative

Sometimes clients don’t provide the things you need to be successful. That might not be intentional, but it certainly causes a problem. Customers need to share all of the right information with you and your team so you can perform the work the best way possible. Not providing key information can result in a frustrated team, a frustrated client, and misaligned outcomes.

They disrespect you or your team

Being disrespected by a customer can negatively impact your mental health and team morale, resulting in lower performance and productivity overall. At that point, you should consider ending the relationship with the customer, or at the very least, having a heart-to-heart conversation with them. 

They aren’t satisfied with your performance

You might have a customer who loves working with you and your team, but they’re just not satisfied with how your product or service performs. In this case, you should consider having a conversation with them to let them know it’s OK if they need to leave. 

After all, the customer needs to do what’s best for their company and their customers. It takes some gumption to have that conversation but it can help build trust even with an unhappy client. 

They don’t respect timelines

Every business has deadlines. When they’re not met, it can cause problems. A few offenses here and there are okay, but when a client continuously delays deadlines by a long shot, it will negatively impact the business. Ideally, your clients respect deliverables and timelines for a smooth workflow.

Lack of communication

Communication is a critical part of any relationship, including business relationships. There must be clear communication from both sides for the relationship to be sustainable. Good communication will ensure alignment on measurable goals, understanding expectations, and clarity on the next steps.

Late payments

When clients don’t pay you on time, it can impact your finances and severely limit you. Worst-case scenario, you might not have the funds to pay your bills or your team’s salaries. Customers paying on time is essential for you to offer the best services and products to your customers. 

If a customer can’t commit to paying on time or paying at all, the relationship should end. Late payment or failing to pay at all shows a lack of respect and impacts your financials.

Unreasonable demands

Unreasonable demands will waste time and money for both parties involved. Both your business and the client need to be aligned on expectations and goals so that you can stay focused on achieving the right outcomes. 

They don’t have a clear direction of what they need anymore

Unclear direction from a client can be a detriment to you and your team. If a customer doesn’t know what they want or need, it can result in wasted time and money on both sides. If a customer says they want one thing, and then says they want the opposite thing, it might be time to have a conversation or let the client go. 

How does a difficult customer affect your company?

The ways a bad customer affects you and your business are broad. A difficult customer ultimately causes a bad experience for customer support agents and in turn, this can result in a bad experience for other customers. Bad-fit customers cause productivity to take a hit, and both employee and client turnover can be impacted. 

From a business perspective, you will spend a lot of time, effort, and money to keep something that might not be worth keeping. You don’t get that time, effort, or money back when the client leaves, so it’s important to evaluate the impact a bad customer has on your business, and when it might be worth saving the relationship.

When to consider salvaging the relationship

In the heat of the moment, it might be unfathomable to consider continuing work with a toxic client, but it’s important to consider the tradeoffs of dealing with a bad customer vs. parting ways. Sometimes the best path forward is at least trying to salvage the relationship.

If they affect the bottom line

When a customer is difficult to work with but they make up a large portion of your company’s revenue, you might have to find a way to make the relationship work. If the tradeoff is going out of business or needing to lay off employees, that’s a pretty significant impact. Simply put, top-paying customers impact revenue and revenue influences budgets.

If you decide to continue working with a bad customer because you need the revenue, have a conversation with them about what must change for the relationship to work.

If you have yet to complete all your contractual obligations

Customers might show their true colors early on before you’ve completed the work you were contracted to do. This puts you in a tricky spot since you are legally contracted to complete the work. Make sure to include a release clause for any severe behaviors that may warrant ending the contract early.

When you've detected a red flag and can propose a solution

A single offense (depending on the severity) might be something you can easily work through with a client. In this case, give the customer feedback immediately so that they know they are doing something wrong and can correct it. This way, you can prevent it from happening again, and you can hopefully save the customer relationship.

Avoiding bad customers

It’s important to consider how you can avoid bad-fit customers in the first place and focus on customers who are a delight to work with. Working with the right customers will set your business up for long-term success, with less frustration and far fewer problems overall. 

Improve your onboarding process

When was the last time you refined your onboarding process? Your approach to onboarding may be setting the wrong expectations, or leading customers down a path that results in them being difficult to work with. 

A good onboarding process should inform the customer about your company, how you work, what to expect, timelines, limitations, etc. This gives customers the necessary information to maintain a great relationship with you.

Re-evaluate pricing

You might be attracting clients who can’t afford your product or service, in which case you’re wasting time and resources. Avoid attracting unqualified leads by refining marketing tactics and your pricing structure. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to be talking to potential customers who can’t afford your product or service.

Only accept clients from reliable lead-generation sources

Lead generation should be done to attract the right type of prospective clients. If you’re seeing a large number of low-quality leads come in, it might be time to analyze your marketing efforts. Make data-driven decisions that will increase the quality of leads over time. 

Communicate red flags promptly

When an otherwise good customer does cause a problem, make sure you correct this as soon as possible. Refer to your contract, SOPs, and company values to get the customer back on track and aligned with your business. Sometimes a customer doesn’t know they’re being difficult to work with, so it’s important to keep an open line of communication when red flags are raised.

Learn from bad experiences

Every bad experience with a customer is a learning opportunity. Treat these experiences as an opportunity to run a retrospective on the client relationship. Analyze what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and what the other party did wrong and right—next time, you’ll be better prepared.

Manage expectations from the beginning

Setting expectations early on is one of the most important things you can do to avoid bad-fit customers from disrupting your business. Use initial meetings as an opportunity to set expectations around how you work, and what your customers can expect. 

This way, there will be a clear understanding of what can and can’t be done by both sides, and you can avoid failing to meet expectations.

How to fire a client nicely

Firing a client is almost inevitable—every business has to make the difficult decision to stop working with a difficult client at some point. How to break up with a client is important, and it should always be done politely and professionally.

Create an action plan to help the client transition

Just as you have an onboarding plan for new customers, you should have an offboarding plan for customers who are departing (whether on their terms or yours). Determine an end date and deliver high-quality work up to the end of the relationship. It’s important to show that you work hard no matter the circumstances. 

If knowledge transfer needs to happen, help the customer with that as well. You want them to be successful even if it’s not with your company.

Don’t leave the client hanging

Firing a client doesn’t mean your work is done. As much as you wish you could simply wash your hands of the relationship and move on, the customer will have questions and requests, and they’re going to need your support. Be clear with the customer, practice active listening, and answer all of their questions to ensure the offboarding process goes smoothly.

Offer alternatives

A customer might be a bad fit for your business, but they might be a great fit for your competitor. As odd as this seems, refer the client to an alternative that might be a better fit for them. Again, continue to guide them to success, even if it’s not with your business.

Communicating your decision with the customer

Communicating your decision to break up with a client is difficult. You might feel nervous, tense, or afraid of how the customer might react. You might be wondering what to include in a termination letter or how to deliver this message in the first place best. 

We recommend having a conversation with your customer first and following up with a more formal written termination letter. Here are some of the best strategies to break up with a client.

Be honest about why you’re ending the relationship

Don’t beat around the bush. Be transparent with your reasoning so the customer understands why you’ve made this difficult decision. Lay out specific scenarios or moments in your relationship that led you to this decision.

Have the conversation in person if possible

If possible, have the conversation in person or at the very least, over a face-to-face video call. Having the conversation in person is a more professional and formal approach than a simple text or email, and it shows you respect the client.

Explain how you will wrap up the work

Lay out how you and your team will wrap up existing commitments. Set expectations around when you will complete the work, and how it will be completed. Your client will likely have a lot of questions on the next steps—this is your opportunity to set expectations and give them the confidence that the transition will be smooth.

End on a positive note

Finally, thank the customer for the opportunity to work together. Offer additional resources or refer them to another business that might be a better fit. Closing on a positive note shows you care about their success and indicates you’re a true professional.

Common challenges

Deciding to break up with a client is difficult, and it comes with some potential challenges after you’ve communicated your decision. 


Customers will respond differently depending on the history of your relationship and their personality. Some customers may be angry about your decision. They might be frustrated that their investment in your business isn’t working out and now they have to find a new solution.

Solution: Be as clear as possible with all of the reasons that influenced you to make this difficult decision. Answer all of their questions, provide alternatives, and have a solid transition plan and exit strategy.


The customer might resent you for your decision to end the relationship, resulting in boycotting your company by leaving bad reviews, complaining publicly about your quality, or worst-case scenario, they might try to avoid a final payment. 

Solution: It’s important to not directly blame the customer unless you have to. Even when you need to blame them, try to direct blame to your company first. They will be less likely to resent your company if you combine alternatives, solutions, and strategies to end the relationship. 

Lack of engagement

Unresponsive customers bring a slew of problems. If the customer is not engaging with you, it might drag out the process of ending the relationship longer than you wish. Some customers might seem distant in the final moments of the relationship.

Solution: Involve the customer only when needed. Make the offboarding process and transition as seamless and smooth as possible. Prepare everything you can for them ahead of time, so they’re only involved in the final few steps.


Understanding how to break up with a client is important for all business owners and customer service agents. Ending the relationship with a customer is a delicate process that should be treated with a lot of forethought. When handled correctly, it can be a smooth process and sometimes even result in a positive review from the customer. How you handle these types of scenarios can make or break how the customer feels about you and your company. 

PartnerHero has years of experience building customer support teams and serving clients, and we’ve also experienced the difficult process of ending relationships. We help our clients navigate these tricky situations with care and expertise. Learn more about PartnerHero here.