WHEN TO LET DIFFICULT CUSTOMERS GO
Successful business owners recognize that customer satisfaction is one of the essential elements of organizational prosperity. After all, providing quality service that clients appreciate not only ensures repeat business from them, but also encourages future “word-of-mouth” sales. But virtually all business operations will sooner or later encounter customers who prove troublesome in one respect or another.
Customer service experts counsel business owners who encounter this situation to:
- Determine whether the difficult customer actually has a legitimate complaint.
- Determine whether the business can take steps to mollify the client’s concerns (regardless of their legitimacy) and improve the relationship.
- In cases where the customer is being unreasonable, decide whether the customer’s value is sufficient to warrant continuance of service.
Nonetheless, businesses need to learn to differentiate truly difficult customers that are ultimately of questionable value to their operations and those customers that may be annoying for one reason or another but who are ultimately solid, valuable clients worth keeping.
Often, the difficult customer is someone who has simply taken annoying habit to an extreme.
Out of the ten types of customer behaviors, only one of which – the Perfect Customer – was wholly desirable to a small business owner. But the others – customers that are “know-it-alls,” unduly dependent, argumentative, indecisive, chronic complainers, monopolizers of time, etc, – sometimes comprise the majority of customer types. These are the individuals that your establishment depends on for long-term success, and as long as their quirks do not become formidable obstacles to business transactions, your business should continue to do its best to satisfy them.
It is when these and other characteristics become excessive that the business owner needs to intercede and decide how his or her business will interact with that customer – if at all – in the future.
Letting Difficult Customers Go
There are occasions, however, when a company’s best efforts to address or anticipate customer complaints are fruitless. In other words, a small but significant percentage of customers that your business deals with may prove to be extremely unpleasant, no matter what efforts are taken to satisfy them. Few businesses are exempt from this reality. After all, the convenience store owner confronted with a disruptive customer is essentially grappling with the same problem as the owner of a small manufacturing company who is treated shabbily by a corporate buyer. In both cases, the business owner is dealing with a customer/client who makes conducting business a distinctly unpleasant experience.
When confronted with difficult customers who appear unlikely to change their stripes, then, business owners have to decide whether their business is worth the aggravation. Several factors should be considered:
Impact on Business
This is generally the single most important consideration in weighing whether to continue doing business with a difficult customer. Is the customer one of your major clients? How difficult would it likely be to replace the revenue from that customer? Is the client a possible conduit to other potentially valuable customers? Is the client a major opinion-sharper in the community or industry in which your company operates? What is the nature of the difficulty?
This latter consideration is an important one. For example, a customer that is an indecisive or impossible – to – please sort, and whose demands result in extensive drains on your business’s resources, may be far more problematic than a client who is difficult simply because he is woefully lacking in interpersonal skills. If your business can handle the loss, it is perfectly acceptable to sever ties with a difficult customer.
But business owners should do their best to end the relationship decisively and as civility as possible. It is impossible to please unreasonable or marginal customers on all occasions, and it’s best to consider leaving them to other vendors. It is far better to expend your efforts in further satisfying already satisfied accounts. The return on investment is almost always far greater.
Impact on Staff
This consideration is some6imes overlooked by business owners, to their detriment. Unhappy employees are far more likely to secure employment elsewhere than those that are content, and few things can make an employee unhappy more quickly than the spectre of regularly dealing with unpleasant customers. Abusive treatment of staff at the hands of clients must be dealt with firmly and speedily. Otherwise, internal morale – and performance – can deteriorate quickly and dramatically.
Impact on Business Owners
Business owners are more likely to be personally affected by difficult customers than are corporate executives, who may be insulated from such unpleasantness. And since businesses tend to rely on their founders for a sizable share of their direction and management, the feelings of those founders need to be considered. A business owner who approaches encounters with a given customer with dread needs to carefully consider whether such meetings are having an adverse impact on his or her ability to attend to other needs of the business without feeling stressed or distracted.
Finally, in some instances there may be reasons for difficult behaviour that are not immediately apparent. Most difficult customer situations are complicated by all kinds of subjective judgments and seemingly mitigating circumstances. For example, changes in personnel at a client company can have a dramatic impact on inter-company relations. If the new representative is insecure about his or her capabilities and knowledge, that may manifest in a variety of ways. If the business owner takes the time to figure out why the customer has suddenly become a problematic one, he or she may be able to devise a strategy to repair the relationship rather than end it.