“The Customer is Always Right” is mantra that has been repeated throughout the customer service industry, to the point where it has become accepted as the industry’s golden rule. In my experience, and in the experience of many others, this is not always the case. If you interact with a large enough client base, statistically some of them are going to be unreasonable and negative. Spending your time, or your employee’s time bending over backwards for people who refused to be satisfied is a waste and potentially harmful to your business.
Early in my career, I was busy building my business and working hard to accommodate my clients and trying to service anyone who I crossed paths with. One customer happened to be responsible for a large percentage of our income, who changed that viewpoint of mine. They were not easy to deal with, rude and entitled towards my staff and seemed impossible to satisfy. On top of making unreasonable demands, this client sapped my staff’s energy and their performance suffered. After being occupied by this client’s negativity, it decided her business was not worth it to me, and I ‘fired’ her. I told her that it wasn’t a perfect fit. I look for a perfect fit with my partners, with staff and with customers. I don’t try to force the issue if it’s not working out.
The decision to fire a client may sound counter productive if your goal is to have as many clients as possible- but there are several reasons why a client may not be worth your time. The main reason lies in your relationship with your employees. If you are focused on only putting the customer first, the members of your staff who have to deal with unpleasant people daily may resent your decision to back people who are rude and disrespectful to them. If your staff is unhappy, and they will be if you keep clients you shouldn’t, the performance of your business will suffer. Also, the concept of the customer always being right automatically places your staff on a lower priority than the customer. If you value your staff and make sure to always support them, their happiness will be reflected in a satisfied customer base.
Note: This isn’t an excuse to allow staff to do a poor job servicing someone and then complain that the customer is upset at them. I get the full information from everyone involved before firing a client as I have found that occasionally there was something to correct with one of the staff and when I did, the situation resolved and we were able to roll along well and smoothly.
After adopting the policy of zero tolerance for nasty clients, I have been able to expand a customer base that my staff and I love servicing. This has created a much more positive working environment and increased the effectiveness of my staff significantly. People often back up the ‘customer is always right’ mantra by arguing that it costs more money to find a new client than keep working with those you have. The fault in this lies in the fact that it will always cost more to find, hire, and train a new employee than it does to keep an effective one happy while working for you.
To backpedal for a second, I am not encouraging you to tell a customer to get lost any time there is tension or a disagreement. You can find a balance when dealing with these issues. Often times, if you explain to the customer what they are doing, and how it is unfair, they may change their behavior and the experience may take a positive turn. Be careful with this, because it is important to not come across as making the customer wrong. Sometimes we will decide to continue working with someone if they are willing to resolve the issue amicably. However, we generally stick to the policy that if it isn’t a perfect fit- it isn’t a perfect fit. It is also helpful if you communicate this during the beginning stages of working with a new client- this can help prevent any conflict from arising at all.
Client relationships should not have to be a struggle. If you have a happy an effective staff, the majority of people who purchase your service will be satisfied. Those who aren’t are usually people who won’t be satisfied no matter what, and their toxic presence is harmful to your business. Training your employees to provide excellent service doesn’t mean training them to take repeated abuse from customers. Find the balance, and don’t be afraid to fire a nasty customer.