Customers can be wrong Featured

6:17am EDT May 24, 2005
We have all heard that the customer is always right, but contrary to popular belief, I don't think it's true.

In fact, most times, the customer is wrong. But here's the thing people forget -- the customer is always in charge.

If you say no to your clients or customers, you'll also be saying goodbye to their business. Your clients are people, too, and they want to feel special, important and respected. In today's fast-paced, eat-or-be-eaten world, it's hard to get exceptional service and, sometimes, to even be treated nicely.

We spend so much money on advertising, promotion and marketing to get customers to notice us, and then, too often, we treat them poorly after they decide to spend money with our businesses.

We know this is wrong, but do nothing about it.

Most of our business is good business with reasonable people who want only to get what they've been promised. But what about that 2 percent to 3 percent of your client base that demands more than they've been promised or, often, more than you're capable of delivering? You know them -- those whiny, nonstop complainers who have nothing better to do than to try to ruin your day from the moment you walk into your office.

These are the people who talk down to your sales and customer service staff, use abusive language, yell, scream and treat your employees, who are trying to satisfy them, like dirt. They're the same people who call you in desperation, only to complain about something they really have no right to complain about.

So what should you do?

Remember "The Little Rascals," with Spanky, Alfalfa and Buckwheat? They had a gesture where they put their hands under their chins and waved them toward the other person. This was called "the high sign." It was meant to say so long, goodbye, get outta here. We should thank them for a concept we can still use in the business world 50 years later.

Unfortunately, too many business owners are afraid to fire a problem customer who can never be satisfied. But doing so is imperative to allow your company to concentrate on your good customers.

Here are several things to consider when deciding whether to send a customer packing.

* Take the emotion out of it. If your sales or customers service employees are being verbally abused by a problem client, remove them from the situation, collect data from them and analyze the situation based on facts, not feelings. It's too hard to let an emotional salesperson or customer service representative continue to work with an abusive customer.

* Do the math. Break down the numbers and see if your business is losing money on the account because of all the time spent hand-holding and meeting unrealistic demands. If the future of the business relationship looks unprofitable, it's time to part ways.

* Replace the lost revenue. If you do say goodbye to the business, determine what is going to make up for that loss of revenue. Do you have the business in future prospects or is it going to be too hard to find?

* Communicate, communicate, communicate. As in a marriage, most problems are attributed to a lack of communication. Meet with the problem client in person, go over his or her concerns and, if possible find a way to create a fresh start before firing the client.

* Remember the Golden Rule. Actually, that should be the platinum rule, made famous by author Tony Allessandra -- "Treat people the way they want to be treated." It might be different from what you're used to, but remember, despite the problems, the customer is still in charge.

Even the best companies screw up. And it's hard to keep all your customers happy all the time. But respect is a different matter. If you want to be treated with respect, you must be respectful toward others. And that includes the customer being respectful toward you and your employees.

Sometimes, it's better to say goodbye to a bad customer and free up more time to take care of the good ones. In the end, your business will prosper.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best selling books, "Can I have 5 minutes of your time?" and "Lip Service." Reach him through