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Lessons learned: Sometimes you have to fire your customer

April 15/22, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 23

By Tom Jennings

 

We’ve all countlessly heard the saying, “The customer is always right.” I believe this to be the case—the majority of the time.

When a customer is unhappy with the goods she has purchased, or the service she has received, shouldn’t you make every effort to ensure her concerns are remedied to her complete satisfaction? My answer would usually be yes.

But isn’t the customer always right no matter what the particulars of the transaction may be? Simply stated, no.

What causes the exceptions? Often it is simply a matter of fair- ness. It’s not just the equitable rights of the entire business to be considered. Many times it is imperative management validate the value of an employee who may be under duress.

Let me first explain I am focusing on a small percentage of the customer base. I have always felt the majority of the people we deal with are basically decent folks who are just concerned with getting their fair value and being treated respectfully.

When this fair-minded customer has a concern that is valid in her mind’s eye, you should endeavor to satisfy her at any cost without delay. Your perception of reality doesn’t matter when dealing with the honest customer. The value of future orders and referrals they can create will always exceed the cost of keeping her happy now. There is never any reason to argue or negotiate with this customer; long term this is a battle you will never win. Remember, whether posting a review or discussing her experiences in person, she will never tell your side of the story—only her own.

The small percentage of the customers I am referring to are the ones who just decide to be impossible to satisfy or decline to play within the rules of decency. Maybe it’s a male customer who harasses a saleswoman. It could be a contractor who is rude and unreasonable in his time-related demands. It could be one who is verbally abusive on the telephone. Maybe it’s the customer who decides to treat your installation staff as subservient. And then there is always the curmudgeon who will find some fault with anything you say or do. If you’ve been serving the buying public for any length of time, you know the type.

When dealing with these customers, it’s usually best to say, “We’re sorry, but maybe we would all be happier if you took your business somewhere else.” You’ll be amazed at how liberating saying these words can be.

As an owner or manager, it is imperative you show your staff the value and respect you have for them—even at the expense of losing a sale. Bending over back- wards to satisfy a customer is admirable. Getting bent over backwards by a customer is not.

Inviting a customer to leave your store is obviously not some- thing you should do often. Perhaps it will occur only once or twice per year. None of us can afford to get in the habit of walking business out the front door.

I would suggest, though, that none of us can afford the cost of walking good employees out the door, either, when they feel unsupported by management. This carries a much greater financial and psychological cost than any profit a sour customer could have provided. Don’t be afraid to fire the occasional bad customer. Your blood pressure will go down and your staff’s morale will go up.

 

Tom Jennings is vice president of professional development for the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA). Jennings, a retail sales training guru, has served in various capacities within the WFCA.