Three times the customer is NOT right!
Customer service. It’s become a nightmare term, especially with the people who make your life a living hell as customers. You know who I’m talking about, the people with the haircut: the Karens and the Chads. They make your life miserable if they aren’t treated exactly how they expect to be, and often do it regardless of how they’re being treated. But the fact is, they aren’t always right.
The world has subliminally informed us that the customer is always right. I disagree!
Especially for small business owners, it’s important to be able to recognize when a customer is not right and is not the right fit for your business. People might tell you that you want to sell to everyone, but I can guarantee you that you don’t! There are a number of reasons why, that relate to specific situations and actually have a direct impact on your bottom line.
First and Foremost: The reasons customers aren’t the boss
We’ve seen it over and over again in recent years: your team is a vital part of your business and the business economy in general.
Developing team members who come onboard, stay onboard, stay engaged, and want to work with and for you has been recognized as the huge asset it is! But if you let your customer run all over your team, it turns into a toxic culture and work environment where people do not want to work at all. Eventually you end up constantly having to hire and train, and don’t have time for other aspects of the business.
Additionally, it will eat into your margins: the more time your team spends on that one unhappy customer, the less time and energy they have to work with and turn easy customers into repeat customers. Further, these kinds of customers are often searching for deals and discounts which eat into your margins from the other end.
Ultimately, there are times where the customer is not right at all. Here’s the three times I believe that customers are positively not right, and how to handle them.
1: Being Abusive/Aggressive
If a customer is becoming abusive to me or my team, that is an automatic red flag.
In fact, we have a list of people on our “absolutely do not contact” list who are not allowed to reach out to us and whom we do not reach out to with regards to the company. If there is interaction with them, I deal with it personally and I back them off.
My team knows that I have a very strict standard for how they are treated by our clients.
And I have it for a reason! My team is amazing. I love them. They will bend over backwards and forwards and twist all the way around to accomplish what they’re being asked to accomplish (no joke, I had a team member pull a 20 hour work day this week and then work a full day the next day because she knew something needed to be done). It’s my job to protect that, both for their sake and for the sake of the company culture.
There are a lot of reasons that the person could be aggressive. It could be anything from people who were trying to buy from us but were being exceedingly impolite, to people straight up yelling at my team. Any of those things will immediately get that person put on our ban list. In fact, we have fired clients simply because of the way they treated the team. If it comes to that, my team knows to loop me in because we won’t spend money with them or take their money after that.
If you want to protect your company culture and build a team that will bend over backwards for you, protect them first and don’t do business with aggressive and abusive clients/customers.
2: Breaking Margins
Obviously margins are important. They are the lifeblood of the company, and when a customer starts to eat into your margins it’s a clear sign that they aren’t a good customer.
Even if they are being the nicest person in the world about it!
And yes, on (a rare) occasion discounts are fine. But if this customer is constantly asking for more, constantly trying to get discounts, and if I'm constantly having to reset boundaries with them? It’s a clear sign that they don’t respect your company enough to be a good customer.
They are absolutely not right to continually ask to cut into your margins! When this becomes a habit, it drains you and your team and ultimately you produce inferior work. You become incapable of taking care of your team, so your team begins to slip. As soon as you notice margin cuts becoming a habit with one customer, it’s time to start the process of moving them away from your company.
3: Breaching Core Values
This one applies to employees as well as clients/customers.
Our core values are built into our business model. They’re built into our website. It’s how we live and breathe and work. We review them every month in depth, and it’s one of the first things we go over with new hires. Yours should be too! Which is why it’s such a big red flag when someone breaches those core values.
For me, a breach of core values is grounds for instant dismissal of the individual.
If they don’t mesh with your core values, they are not right for your company.
A Quick Caveat:
There may be times when you can be gentle about it. If someone has stepped across a boundary, it’s your job to gently reset the boundary and point it out. Because we’re human, it’s prone to happen a couple times. But if you get to the point that they have stepped over the boundary three to four times, it’s time to move them away from your business.
Handling These Customers
“Yeah, but if I tell them to leave then won’t they damage my company reputation with their review?”
The reality is, it doesn’t always have to be ugly! Out of all the clients I have fired in the last 7 years, only two of those situations have turned ugly (which I'd say is a pretty good ratio considering how often we do actually fire clients).
You can often find a way to provide them with a connection that is better for them, and there are a lot of great ways to phrase it.
Instead of telling them you won’t serve them, invite them to take their business elsewhere. Instead of saying “you’re not a fit for us”, rephrase it to point out that your business isn’t the right fit for their needs. Always draw the conversation back to specific instances so they have no room to assume it’s about something that it’s not, and use positive phrases as often as possible.
If you make it all about their benefit, they don’t have a leg to stand on.
About the Author: Stephanie Scheller is a TED speaker, a two-time best-selling author and the founder of Grow Disrupt. In just under a decade, Stephanie has been behind the scenes with more than 5,000 small businesses. She has worked in groups and one-on-one to create total business transformation & help business owners live the life they got into business to create!