Have you ever had that customer that you intentionally neglected hoping that they would fire your small business?
Or maybe you just have that one customer that seems to never be satisfied no matter how hard you try to please them?
No, then this post is not for you – you can stop reading here.
For the rest of us, I am sure the image of someone came quickly to mind. If we are lucky there is only one, but misery loves company so it is likely that there are a few. Hopefully, there are not so many that you start feeling like you’re the man in the Edvard Munch painting, “The Scream.”
The sad thing is that I meet small business entrepreneurs all the time that feel this way. Worse yet, they fail to realize that they are in total control. They are actually asking for these types of customers.
Thank You Sir. May I Have Another?
What do I mean? Well, first of all, remember that it is YOUR business. Many small business owners put up the “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” sign, but seldom exercise that right.
One critical mistake that many entrepreneurs make is that they don’t define what their target customer looks like. This is a critical part of your business plan because it affects many parts of your business, but most entrepreneurs skip this step or it exists only as a thought in their head.
The result is that they accept any customer that walks in the door as long as they can pay (and many times they forget to check that). They are so grateful just to have a customer, especially when starting out, that they shower them with attention.
What if that person turns out to be one of those customers that drive you crazy? You know the ones I am talking about. The customer that …
- is never satisfied
- always wants to quarrel over price
- constantly “pops in” or calls you for free advice/support/samples
- can never seem to pay their invoice
Please Do Not Feed The Bears
There’s a reason that we are told not to feed the bears, but many small business owners unwittingly do so. There are two problems with feeding bears.
First, they tend to bring their friends back with them.
What started out as just scraps quickly becomes you raiding the cupboard for more food and then shopping for the bears. Unwanted customers can quickly suck the life out of your business by consuming your time and resources.
Second, bears do not take being told “No” very well.
If you just ignore them they will start rummaging through your stuff to find their own meals. If you poke them with a stick they could attack you and scare away everyone in the vicinity. The wrong customers seldom take the hint to move on, and if you ask them to leave they may try to inflict as much damage as possible to your reputation.
The Customer is NOT Always Right
Why do small business owners let it get this far? Primarily because we are afraid to lose customers. We are trained to always increase our customer base. It does not come naturally to us to fire our customers.
The other thing that we have been led to believe is that the customer is always right. I was reading a post by Richard Matthews this week called, “The Ten Things I HATE Most!” Number five on his list was “I hate pretending the customer is right!” Here was my response:
Herb Kelleher agrees, as this passage from Nuts! the excellent book about Southwest Airlines shows:
Herb Kelleher [...] makes it clear that his employees come first — even if it means dismissing customers. But aren’t customers always right? “No, they are not,” Kelleher snaps. “And I think that’s one of the biggest betrayals of employees a boss can possibly commit. The customer is sometimes wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write to them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.’”
I wholeheartedly agree with Herb. When you decided to become an entrepreneur, did you intend to attract these customers? No! Why should you put up with them now then?
Silencing the Screams
Okay, so how do we quiet the screams? In honor of Halloween, how do we vanquish the vampires that would suck the lifeblood out of our small business?
- Don’t invite them. Be selective and only accept customers that fit your customer profile.
- Provide a written quote up front that lists the full scope of the agreement and the price.
- Suggest a billable meeting or support plan to “pop in” and telephone abusers.
- Write up change orders on any additional work to satisfy the customer.
- Set the expectation that the customer must pay for changes they request.
- You can always provide a credit, but inform the customer it is a one time offer.
- Develop a written credit policy.
- Request a deposit or up front payments from problem customers.
- Collect credit application and run credit report on larger customers.
Finally, always remember that it is your business. The above suggestions will help prevent these customers, but ultimately it is up to you to end the relationship.